11 July 2024

The youngest possible segment of the Thai population – aged from six months up to five years old – will soon be able to get COVID-19 jabs as the government steps up its vaccination drive to cover all age groups.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul expects Pfizer (Thailand and Indochina) to start delivering doses for babies and young children next month. Children in this group will require three 3-microgram jabs of the approved vaccine.

“We aim to cover all age groups,” Anutin said. “We have ordered 3 million doses for this youngest group.”

So far, more than 53 million of Thailand’s 70 million population have received at least two COVID-19 jabs. Of them, at least 4 million are between 12 and 17 years old and 2.6 million between the ages of five and 11.

How will the young benefit?

Prof Dr Kulkanya Chokephaibulkit, who teaches pediatrics at Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, said COVID-19 vaccination can prevent severe symptoms and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

“Inoculation is the best way to curb risks from the virus as well as MIS-C,” she said, adding that at least one in 10,000 children develop MIS-C two to six weeks after a COVID-19 infection. MIS-C symptoms include seizures, serious diarrhea, and even death in extreme cases.

In Thailand, at least 100 children have been diagnosed with MIS-C since the arrival of COVID-19 in early 2020. The average age of the 51 children treated at Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health for MIS-C was 4.8 years.

Thai Public Health Ministry to procure 3 million doses of Pfizer vaccine for young children

Expert recommendation

The Royal College of Pediatricians of Thailand strongly recommends that babies under one year old, especially those born prematurely or struggling with their weight, chronic respiratory problems including moderate/serious asthma, diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer, immunosuppressive disorder, and genetic disorders like Down’s syndrome be vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to experts, the gap between the first and second jabs should ideally be four weeks, (three to eight weeks is acceptable), while the gap between the second and third jabs should be at least eight weeks.

“When compared with older kids, infants under one year old have a higher risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19. These babies already have relatively low immunity, and it is highly likely that the mother has not developed immunity through a previous COVID-19 infection,” the college’s president Prof Dr Somsak Lolekha said. “So essentially, they have no natural protection against the new coronavirus.”

According to research, a COVID-19 vaccine is 73.2 percent effective in protecting youngsters from getting infected if there is an outbreak of the Omicron variant. Youngsters who have never contracted COVID-19 still have higher immunity against the virus than 16- to 25-year-olds who have received two Pfizer shots.

Inoculation plan

Dr Sopon Iamsirithaworn, the Disease Control Department’s deputy director-general, said vaccines will be administered at hospitals because babies and young children usually have to be taken there for other necessary jabs like diphtheria and whooping cough.

“When parents bring their children to hospitals for their regular shots, we will also ask if they would be interested in getting COVID-19 shots as well,” he said.

The government expects that 40 to 50 percent of the parents will agree to their child getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Somsak added that people do not have to worry about side effects, because the jab mostly only causes pains and aches or a slight fever. Very few complaints of side effects have emerged among children aged five and 11 who have received COVID-19 shots.

“In foreign countries, younger children have developed fewer issues from vaccination compared to older kids,” he added.

Downplaying concerns about the use of mRNA vaccines for young children, Somsak said the RNA in the vaccine is the sort the human body generates if infected with COVID-19 and is not permanent.

Many parents have been cautious about getting their children inoculated against COVID-19, especially with mRNA vaccines, as they believe this is a new technology, even though it has been around for more than two decades.