When a 13-year-old girl in Aichi Prefecture received a vaccination voucher mailed to her home at the end of July, her father wasn’t sure if she should be inoculated.
“Would it be all right for a child still going through puberty to be vaccinated? To be honest, I was worried,” he said.
The father looked into the possible side effects on the health ministry’s website and explained what he’d read to her.
But she had already made up her mind. “I want to get it,” she said, adding that she didn’t want to miss school by getting the virus.
She received both vaccinations in July. Her arm was sore after the first dose and she ran a fever of 38 degrees Celsius after the second jab, which went away after a few days.
The health ministry lowered the age of eligibility to 12 for COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna.
While the infection is spreading again in many areas, children are said be more likely to suffer from side effects of the vaccine than adults. With this in mind, many parents are wondering what they should do.
What do parents need to know when deciding whether or not to vaccinate their kids?
It’s important to know that in general, younger people who are infected with COVID-19 are less likely to experience severe symptoms. For example, as of Aug. 4, one out of every seven people in their 80s or older has died from the disease, while just one out of every 25,000 people in their 20s suffered a similar fate. There have been no cases in Japan of someone in their teens or younger dying of COVID-19.
Considering these figures and the fact that COVID-19 vaccines are meant to prevent people from developing symptoms or becoming severely ill, the benefits of vaccination for children could be limited.
However, a small portion of coronavirus patients under 20 years old develop what is called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a severe disease that causes inflammation in multiple organs.
But the number of cases is limited. According to the latest U.S. research, 316 patients with the disease have been reported among 1 million infected people. In Japan, at least four cases have been reported, according to the health ministry.
What is more worrying, though, is that with the highly transmissible delta variant becoming dominant, the number of infections among teenagers is increasing.
Vaccine rollouts in other countries have proven effective in preventing infections.
Dr. Tetsushi Yoshikawa, 60, a professor of pediatrics at Fujita Health University and a board member at the the Japanese Society for Vaccinology, recommends the shots for children with medical issues.
“It is very important for children with underlying medical conditions to receive the vaccine,” Yoshikawa said.
Students who want to make sure they are not sick when they take school entrance exams may also want to be vaccinated, since patients generally need to quarantine for at least 10 days if they get infected.
In addition, some people suffer from a permanent loss of smell and taste after contracting the virus. If it is later discovered that children are more prone to such aftereffects, then getting vaccinated may be seen as a higher priority.
Clinical trials conducted abroad indicate that younger people tend to experience more side effects after the second shot than the general population.
In countries where more people have been vaccinated, there have been some reports of myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle — mainly in young men.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which had administered more than 300 million doses of the vaccine by mid-June, there have been only four suspected cases of myocarditis per 1 million people vaccinated. As the numbers indicate, it is a very rare condition, and most people recover after being hospitalized.
“Just to be safe, avoid strenuous exercise for a week,” said Yoshikawa.
Singapore, where more people are getting inoculated, has issued a similar warning to citizens after receiving the second shot.
Another thing to watch out for is vasovagal reflex, which is the most common cause of fainting and is usually not dangerous or an indicator of other health issues. This simple anemic reaction in the brain is more common in younger people and can make some experience nausea or fainting when experiencing the pain or anxiety of getting a shot. In order to relax, it might be better to get vaccinated at your family doctor’s office.
The benefits of vaccination may depend on where you live. Are you in close contact with people who are likely to become seriously ill? Do you travel in and out of major cities where there are lots of COVID-19 cases?
As more people become immune to the disease, the closer the nation and the world will get to the end of the pandemic.
“(But) each person has to make their own decision, and the decision of not getting vaccinated should be respected,” Yoshikawa said.
Having said that, Yoshikawa also stressed the need for people to check reliable sources of information such as the website of the Japanese Pediatric Society. “It’s important not to rely on information from an untrustworthy source.”
This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug 10.
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