Parents should use facts, not fear when deciding to vaccinate children

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In a paper published in November in the medical journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, leading experts in pediatrics, immunology and infectious diseases posed a question that is currently haunting parents everywhere.اضافة اعلان

“Should children be vaccinated against COVID-19?”

It is a tough question and, as the experts bleakly conclude, there is no easy answer. There is still “no consensus on whether all healthy children under 12 years of age should be vaccinated against COVID-19”.

Parents, few of whom will be equipped to calculate the risk-benefit ratio in question, now face a dilemma, and polls have shown that up to 60 percent of parents are reluctant to vaccinate 5 to 11 year olds.

Over the past few months, health authorities in country after country have been opening up their COVID-19 vaccination programs to children as young as five years old.

The majority of parents will be among the estimated 62 percent of the world’s population who have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, having trusted the scientific consensus that the drugs are both safe and effective.

But when it comes to deciding whether or not to have their child jabbed, many parents will be veering instinctively toward vaccine hesitancy – and, say the experts, they might be right to entertain doubts.

The authors of the new study conclude that the case for vaccinating healthy children “is more difficult than for adults as the balance of risks and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination in children is more complex, as the relative harms from vaccination and disease are less well established in this age group”.

Their advice? Well, of course, there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer.

The first question for parents to address is, “Why?” COVID-19 has been seen to be much milder in children than in adults, and even when it is severe, deaths are much rarer. That, of course, would be no consolation to a family that loses a child, so why not have the vaccination anyway, just in case?

Another good question. After all, the more people, adults and children, who are vaccinated, the more the spread of COVID-19 is hampered.

Like adults, children also transmit the coronavirus if they are infected, even if they have no symptoms.

In October, the US Food and Drug Administration said that vaccine safety and effectiveness had been studied in a group of almost 3,100 children, and the drugs had been found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

There are other benefits to vaccinating children, such as minimizing disruption to education. So what about the downsides of vaccination – the threat of possible side effects?

The emerging reality is that these are extremely rare in children. A child might suffer pain at the injection site or could feel tired for a while. Headaches, achy muscles or joints, and even fever and chills, are also possible, but are almost always short-lived.

The worst possible side effect, of course, is death. As one meme on Facebook put it, “we are being told to line up our children to get something that might kill them, to protect them from something that cannot kill them”.

But this is demonstrably false scaremongering. A review of COVID-19 deaths in England, published in November 2021, found that 25 infected patients under the age of 18 had died from having the virus. At the same time, of three million children having been given the vaccination, not one had died as a result of the jab.

In December, UK medicines watchdog the MHRA approved use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in 5 to 11 year olds, following a review of safety data that took account of the fact that at that point over 5.5 million dosages of the vaccine had been given to 5 to 11 year olds in the US alone, with no adverse consequences.

For some, there is a moral dimension to hesitancy. Is it right, they are asking, for adults to protect themselves by subjecting children to vaccination?

The answer is “yes”. Vaccinating children protects the whole community, not just the adults. Plus, the more comprehensive a vaccination program, the less likely it is that other variants will emerge – variants that might pose threats to specific groups, including young children.

Others fear that giving their children a “new” drug, without any data on its long-term safety, might be a risk, but this is to misunderstand the nature of the vaccines.

The mRNA technology that lies behind vaccines such as the Pfizer-BioNTech jab – on offer for young children in the UAE and Saudi Arabia – is not new, and neither is it introducing potentially hazardous substances into the body.

Some vaccines work by introducing a weakened or inactivated virus into our bodies to trigger an immune response. On the other hand, vaccines based on mRNA merely teach our bodies to recognize the proteins produced by viruses or bacteria and trigger an immune response.

Ultimately, though, the decision about whether to vaccinate children must lie with their parents – and here is where I must declare an interest.

I am the fully-jabbed father of a 7-year-old daughter and, after much soul-searching – and a great deal of research – my wife and I have decided that she should have the vaccine.

We have reached this decision on two grounds. The first is that she is more at risk ­– albeit only a tiny risk – from COVID-19 than she is from the vaccination.

The second is that her inoculation will represent a tiny but significant step toward humankind’s ultimate victory over a virus that, to date, has claimed almost six million lives.

Ultimately, of course, it is your choice. Just be sure your decision is informed by facts, and not by unfounded fears.

The writer is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK. Syndication Bureau

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