Doctors recommend students get vaccinated due to Omicron

Students on their first day back in school after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted to allow in-person learning. (File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Minister of State for Media Affairs Faisal Shboul said that the decision to postpone the start of the second academic semester for public and private schools (KG–high school), came partly as a result of recommendations by epidemiologists who expressed concern that Omicron could have a stronger health impact on children, and as a measure to limit the rapid spread of the variant, which has been recording increased numbers since December 2021. اضافة اعلان

Shboul said that studies have indicated that 56 percent of Omicron patients are under the age of 34, and according to the Epidemiological Committee’s findings, children are more affected by the Omicron variant, unlike previous mutations which had a stronger impact on the elderly.

The government estimates that the peak of the fourth wave, also known as the Omicron wave, is expected during February 15–20, and thus there is concern that children in schools will be infected, which could lead to some children passing on the virus to their parents and other people at their respective households.

Doctor Azmi Mahafzah, a virologist and former Minister of Education, told Jordan News that “while the Omicron is currently the most infectious variant, meaning it is undergoing a rapid spread, this does not necessarily mean that Omicron is the most dangerous variant for children.”

During the first wave of the pandemic, children under the age of 15 years made up 8 percent of all infections in the Kingdom. At present, Mahafzah said, it is possible that many children are getting infected with Omicron, because of the relatively low vaccination rates for that age group. The increase of Omicron was sudden and unexpected, which may have contributed to rising infection rates, he said.

“We should be aware that there are more asymptomatic cases than symptomatic when analyzing COVID-19 in general, and there are much more undocumented cases than documented, because of the absence of symptoms, or due to mild symptoms among children and other groups,” Mahafzah noted.

Generally, the risks associated with Omicron infection are lower for children than adults, and the death rate among children globally and locally is very low despite some cases of hospitalization, according to Mahafzah. However, there are some risks on children who get Omicron or other variants, like potential complications on certain organs three weeks from the onset of COVID-19 infection, but this is rare and treatable, and COVID-19, in all its variants, is usually mild on children and does not cause serious illness. Therefore, Mahafzah maintained that he is a proponent of vaccinating children.

Given that children might still be infected while staying at home, Mahafzah is skeptical that postponing the academic semester to February 20 is an absolutely crucial measure, because children can still be vulnerable to infection even when they are at home. “Contrarily, in the school, there are mask regulations and testing equipment available.”

Najwa Khoury, a member of the National Epidemiology Committee, told Jordan News: “When we say that children can be particularly vulnerable to Omicron, we are saying this in comparison to the effect of other variants on children.”  She added that while the full impact of this variant is still being analyzed, it remains necessary to prevent children from being exposed to Omicron infections as a preventative measure due to its rapid spread at the moment.  

Khoury believes that it is absolutely important to encourage school children and adults alike to get vaccinated, including getting the booster shot.  Initially, adults were highly encouraged to get vaccinated, and while this is still the case, there is now a special focus on children’s vaccination, especially given the fact that schools are reopening and resuming classroom education,” Khoury added.

Children up to five years old can get the COVID-19 vaccine, and symptoms of Omicron affecting children are often similar to other variants, including fevers, sore throats, and coughing.

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