November is National Children’s Month (NCM). This year’s theme is “New Normal na Walang Iwanan: Karapatan ng Bawat Bata Ating Tutukan!” The annual celebration recognizes children as the nation’s most valuable assets and emphasizes the importance of their role within the Filipino family and Philippine society.
The theme is relevant in the context of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as children are not spared from the potentially fatal infection.
As of September, there were 1,881 probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases in children (age 18 and below) reported in the country. Around 16% were severe and critical, 25% moderate, 42% mild, and 17% asymptomatic.
Almost 9 out of 10 required hospitalization, and 1 in 4 (26%) needed oxygen support of which a little over a third (36%) had to be intubated. A third (34%) of the children have comorbidities.
The vast majority recovered (81%) while 148 died (8%), according to the Surveillance and Analysis of COVID-19 in Children Nationwide (SALVACION) Case Bulletin #3 of the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines (PIDSP).
In a joint statement, the Philippine Pediatric Society (PPS) and PIDSP recommended that children 12 years old and above may be considered for vaccination once a sufficient percentage of the country’s priority adult groups has been vaccinated.
They proposed initiating the vaccine rollout in high-transmission areas, prioritizing the adolescents that are qualified in the A3 (children with co-morbidities) and A1 (children of healthcare frontliners) categories.
On Oct. 15, the country’s first batch of children 12 to 17 years old with comorbidities received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose in select hospitals in Metro Manila, including the National Children’s Hospital, Philippine General Hospital, Philippine Children’s Medical Center, Fe Del Mundo Medical Center, Philippine Heart Center, Makati Medical Center, St. Luke’s Medical Center-Global City, and Pasig City Children’s Hospital.
A week later, the second phase of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccination kicked off in several Metro Manila hospitals and a mall.
There are an estimated 1.2 million children with comorbidities aged 12 to 17 in the country, according to the Department of Health (DoH). Children with the following comorbidities are eligible under the A3 category: medical complexity or those with long-term dependence on technical support; genetic conditions; neurologic conditions; metabolic/endocrine diseases; cardiovascular diseases; obesity; HIV infection; tuberculosis; chronic respiratory diseases; kidney disorders; diseases of the liver, gallbladder and bile ducts; and impaired immune system due to disease or treatment.
Currently approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing serious outcomes of COVID-19, including severe disease, hospitalization, and death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC recommend that the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine be administered three weeks after the first shot while the second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine should be given 28 days after the first shot.
In most cases, minor side effects are normal and indicate that the vaccine recipient’s immune system is building protection to COVID-19 infection, according to the WHO.
These include pain, redness or swelling on the injection site; tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea. Consult a doctor if the redness or pain in the injection site worsens after 24 hours, or if side effects do not go away after a few days.
At the moment, age recommendations and the vaccines to be used can vary by country for children and teens more than 5, 12, 16 or 18 years old.
No authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine can be given to children under the age of 5 years but some vaccine manufacturers are studying the vaccine in younger populations. It is important to keep track of recommendations and guidance on vaccination for children and teens as these may change in the future.
It is advised that parents speak with their doctors to help ensure that children would not be left behind in efforts to protect the population from COVID-19.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are at the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.