As of Jan. 7, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has not received any reports of serious adverse events or myocarditis from vaccination in children in Singapore, since the roll-out of the national vaccination programme to children aged 5 to 11.
Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said this in Parliament on Jan. 10.
Adding that the ministry will continue to monitor the situation closely, Puthucheary said that most of the side-effects experienced by children after vaccination have been mild.
Mostly mild side-effects
These include injection site pain, fatigue and fever, and would typically resolve in a few days, he said.
Children are also covered by the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme (VIFAP) as long as they are Singapore citizens, permanent residents, or long-term pass holders, he said.
Only the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine has been approved for children
Puthucheary further pointed out that only the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine has been approved for children below the age of 18.
Special exemptions have also been made for those aged 12 to 17 to receive the Sinovac vaccine under a public health programme, if they are not medically eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
Puthucheary also highlighted that the ministry will work with the Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccinations to to review if the public health programme should be extended to children aged five to 11 who are medically ineligible to complete the Pfizer vaccine, based on further studies on the safety and effectiveness of Sinovac vaccine.
In response to additional questions posed by the Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh of the Workers' Party, about the apprehension that some parents had about the administration of mRNA vaccines to children, the Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung said that the vaccine administered to children was a "diluted form."
"They are not taking the same adult vaccine. Pfizer-BioNTech for example, is one-third the dose of an adult," he said.
About 123,000 children have received their first dose or booked their vaccine appointment
On the number of children aged five to 11 who had begun their vaccination regime, Puthucheary said that as of Jan. 7, 123,000 in this age group had either received their first dose or booked their appointment.
With regard to the number of children infected with Covid-19 in 2021, there were 15,540 children below the age of 12 who were infected, of which 3,145 had ever been in a hospital or a Covid facility.
However, as Jan. 8, 2022, none of these children remain hospitalised, he added.
"Although fewer children have been seriously ill with Covid-19 compared to adults, there is still a risk of them becoming seriously ill or developing severe Covid-19 complications such as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). Since mid-October 2021, we have observed several serious cases of COVID-19 in children, with some requiring intensive care."
As such, it is important for children in this age group to begin their vaccination regime, he said.
Assessment on vaccine safety for children corroborates to international data
Puthucheary also pointed out that the Pfizer vaccine had been assessed by the Health Sciences Authority and the Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccinations to be safe for children, with the assessment corroborating to international data.
"In the United States of America where about 8.7 million doses had been administered to children as of December 19, 2021, most of the adverse events reported were not serious and no safety concerns have been raised.
2.4 per cent of the children experienced serious adverse events such as fever, vomiting, myocarditis and seizures. The incidence of myocarditis, which is what many parents are most concerned about, is about one in a million doses. The children reported with myocarditis following vaccination had either recovered or were recovering at the time of the report."
In a follow-up clarification, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung pointed out that the incidence of myocarditis among those infected with Covid-19 (for children aged 12 to 17), was 450 cases per one million Covid-19 infections.
This number is also disproportionately weighted towards males.
Janil commented, "So you can see that the risk is much lower with immunisations and hence the benefit is much greater."
No recommendations for children to receive booster shots
In the meantime, there are no recommendations for children to receive booster shots.
Should these be introduced, MOH will continue to ensure that families with children are able to access vaccination services in a convenient manner, according to Puthucheary.
Currently, 15 designated paediatric vaccination centres (VCs) located island-wide are being progressively stood up.
All 15 centres will be manned by medical personnel trained in paediatric care and staff experienced in administering vaccinations for children.
Puthucheary added, "We assure parents that all our designated paediatric VCs (vaccination centres) are equipped with paediatric monitoring and resuscitation equipment, and the medical personnel are trained to manage any on-site emergencies arising from allergic reactions."
In addition, beginning from Jan. 10, to provide greater convenience for parents or guardians with more than one child or ward, all accompanying siblings of a child with an appointment on Mondays to Thursdays can walk in for their vaccination without a prior appointment.
MOH has also worked closely with MOE and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to organise webinars with parents to address common concerns on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, he said.
As for the number of unvaccinated children, among those aged 12 to 19, this stands at less than four per cent.
Puthucheary said, "As of Jan. 6, 2022, there are 14,097 individuals between the age of 12-19 who are unvaccinated, of which 14 individuals are medically ineligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine."
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