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Children could be vaccinated before schools open

  • Education Ministry sends request to health officials

  • Pfizer, only vaccine approved for children, expected in July

  • Teachers also to be included

By Dinitha Rathnayake

 

The Ministry of Education expects to rollout Covid-19 vaccines for both schoolchildren and teachers before the recommencement of school, and a request has already been sent to the health officials regarding the vaccination of schoolchildren, according to the Ministry.

“We have requested the vaccines for both teachers and schoolchildren. This has, however, not been finalised yet. We would appreciate it if the vaccination comes just after the travel restrictions are lifted and before the school term starts,” the Ministry of Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera told The Morning yesterday (3).

According to Prof. Perera, there are around 4.5 million schoolchildren in the education system at the moment.

Meanwhile, consultant paediatrician Dr. LakKumar Fernando, speaking to The Morning, added that while people above 60 years of age are certainly the priority when it comes to vaccinating the general public, children are also important, as they can transmit the virus to their grandparents.

“Sri Lanka has only vaccinated 1.6% of the population with both doses and 7% with one dose so far. The death rate in adults over 60 years is 50 to 100 times more than in the case of children. Therefore, in order to prevent deaths, the older people are easily the priority. However, we have 25% or slightly more of our population who are children, who can still transmit the disease, especially to the older grandparents within our extended family system. The only vaccine licensed for children is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and at present, that is also for those above 12 years. It will also come to Sri Lanka in July or later.”

He added that until Sri Lanka has sufficient vaccines to inoculate children, Sri Lanka should prioritise those children who are especially vulnerable due to pre-existing conditions.

“When we are comfortable with the available doses as per the country’s need, we need to think of children too, though not now, as it is important to reach herd immunity faster. Until we get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, I believe that the few children who are especially vulnerable, for example, children with diabetes and other chronic diseases, should get a slot in the priority list. Now, however, there are no vaccines to suit all children nor has any such vaccine been approved for all children,” he said.

According to Dr. Fernando, parents should therefore know that vaccination is still not an option for their children, especially the young, and that hence, social distancing practices should be the key to protect them from Covid-19.

Countries in Europe such as France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Italy,  Estonia, and Austria have confirmed or are likely to confirm the vaccination of children above the age of 12 years this month. In Asia and the Middle East, including Israel, Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Singapore, Japan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong have already started or will start vaccinating children above 12 soon. In North America, the US and Canada began vaccinating children above 12 in May. All of these countries are using Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for this purpose.

Children could be vaccinated before schools open