While the government in its daily updates on the Covid-19 situation regularly warns the public to take especial care of senior citizens and children, only one of these groups will have priority once the much-awaited deliveries of vaccine arrive on Malaysian shores early next year.
The elderly are next in line after frontline health workers, along with those with non-communicable diseases and chronic respiratory diseases. Children, on the other hand, will not be vaccinated against the virus, science minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently announced.
With schools set to reopen within weeks, his statement that children will be among the 30% of people depending on herd immunity may have raised some concerns.
But the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) says there is a reason why children will be excluded from the vaccination process.
For one thing, clinical trials are not normally conducted on children, a fact mentioned by Khairy in his Dec 23 announcement.
MMA president Dr Subramaniam Muniandy told MalaysiaNow that children are also less affected by the virus.
“We will be giving the vaccine to frontliners and people who are at immediate risk,” he said.
“Those with low immunity such as people above 60 years of age and those with diseases will be getting the vaccine first.”
“The disease is generally much milder in children than in adults.”
However, he cautioned parents to continue keeping a watchful eye on their children and to adhere to the SOPs at all times.
According to a recent report by the Associated Press, the Pfizer vaccine, one of the first to be given the green light, is intended for those aged 16 and above.
Clinical tests on children as young as 12 began in October and are expected to continue for several more months. Depending on the results, younger children may be enrolled as well.
There is currently insufficient data from studies on different age groups to prove if children are able to be given the vaccine or not.
But Azrul Mohd Khalib, CEO of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said recorded fatalities among children are rare, and that most children recover well from the infection.
“The disease is generally much milder in children than in adults,” he told MalaysiaNow.
He added that the latest research shows schools are not the primary drivers of outbreaks, cautioning however that children are as likely as adults to transmit the virus to others in their household.
In his announcement last week, Khairy said the government is looking to secure vaccines from three other companies in addition to Pfizer, AstraZeneca and the Covax Facility.
With the additional vaccines from Sinovac, CanSinoBIO and Gamaleya, he said, 82.8% of the country or 26.5 million people could be inoculated against the virus, surpassing Putrajaya’s goal of reaching 70% herd immunity.
Given the severity of the virus which has so far infected over 105,000 and claimed the lives of 452, Azrul said there is a push to get the vaccines ready and distributed among the older people.
“Pharmaceutical manufacturers and healthcare regulators waited until the vaccine candidates were proven safe and effective in adults before moving to children.
“Pfizer is the only one at the moment which has allowed minors into a vaccine trial,” he said.