KUALA LUMPUR, 10 Oct — The government’s plan to move the country into an endemic phase from the current Covid-19 pandemic status is on track. It is no longer focused on herd immunity but rather to provide the people with the widest possible vaccination coverage.

The Health Ministry is looking to ease into the transitional phase of ‘living with the Covid-19 virus’ with the number of cases at present within the range of predictability and not overwhelming public health.

Nevertheless, this October marks a crucial period as many activities are allowed to resume. This will further allow the transition to gradually take place, in line with the complete vaccination of 90 per cent of adult population and a growing number of teenagers.

It may be good news but the mass must not be heedless of the need to contain the virus. It is too early to celebrate the return to pre-pandemic times, especially with the life-threatening and hyper-infectious variants like Delta still mutating.

According to the CovidNow portal, 20.9 million people or 89.4 per cent of the adult population in Malaysia have completed their vaccination as at 8 October. For those between 12 to 17 years old, 177,029 adolescents or 5.6 per cent are now fully vaccinated.

However, vaccination for those below 12 years old have yet to begin.

Vaccinating children below 12 years old

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin have said that talks are being held with a vaccine producer to procure Covid-19 vaccine for kids below 12 years old. The firm is preparing to send relevant data to every governing bodies worldwide including to Malaysia.

But while waiting for this to be decided, how do we actually protect the kids?

Environmental health expert, Professor Dr Juliana Jalaludin said the action of some parents in bringing unvaccinated children to high-risk places can expose them to virus carriers and potentially put them in harm’s way.

“MOH data shows new Covid-19 cases remain high with deaths still in the hundreds. The pandemic’s infectivity is worrying due to transmission of the Delta variant which is becoming increasingly dominant,” she told Bernama.

Dr Juliana who serves in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences in Universiti Putra Malaysia, said it is the collective responsibility of the people to protect children from being infected with Covid-19.

The risk of children contracting the virus is higher especially for those below 12 years old as they are not vaccinated, with an evident increase of them being admitted into hospitals since the emergence of the Delta variant.

As at 19 September, 67 deaths involving children were reported compared to only six deaths in 2020.

More than 400,000 Covid-19 infections involved those below 18 years old as at 30 September, an upswing from about 12,000 cases last year, which involved 252,569 school children and 42,381 pre-schoolers.

Protecting the children

Dr Juliana advised parents to avoid taking unvaccinated children to confined spaces with poor ventilation and recirculated air.

“Choose a well-ventilated place with clean and optimum outside air intake. Kids can have activities outside but must strictly adhere to SOP like wearing face mask, physical distancing and ensuring good personal hygiene.

“Do a risk evaluation before taking children to certain locations. Always remember that anyone outside can spread the virus to our family,” she added.

She also suggests for children to be quickly inoculated following report that the rapid spread of Delta variant contributed to the increase in cases.

“Children are active and may be unable to comprehend SOP. Hence the risk of infection may be higher. They have also returned to school and hence, vaccination must be expedited to avoid school community cluster,” she said.

After almost two years of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Juliana said society should be well-adjusted to live with the virus by practising new normal.

“Cultivating and enhancing the new normal like physical distancing and avoiding crowded places must continue daily. Fully vaccinated people also have the potential to spread Covid-19 virus if negligent in abiding SOP,” she added.

Awaiting study outcome

Associate Professor Dr Ahmad Izuanuddin Ismail, UiTM Hospital deputy director and a respiratory medicine consultant, said data on the safety of vaccinating kids below 12 years old is still insufficient. There is a need to wait and evaluate local and foreign studies before deciding on this group.

“But if we can successfully vaccinate 80 per cent of the population and continuously adhere to SOP, InsyaAllah we can restrain the pandemic’s infectivity and protect the children’s environment.

“Overseas reports show a drastic increase in cases when there is a slack in SOP compliance,” he said.

Life in a Covid-19 endemic phase requires everyone to be responsible for their own health and those around them.

Most importantly, don’t be lax while getting use to ‘living with the Covid-19 virus’ and always be cautious. — Bernama