As the cases of COVID-19 positive children continue to grow during the fourth wave, questions are being raised as to why they appear to be more susceptible to the Omicron variant – and if vaccinations should be open to those younger than 12.
While experts say it was not immediately clear why more children were getting ill, Professor Barry Schoub, chairperson of the COVID-19 vaccine ministerial advisory committee, said vaccinating kids was not a priority right now.
“Our highest priority remains the vaccination of the elderly and most susceptible members of our population. While we started vaccinating those between 12 and 17 years old, they are not our biggest concern,” Schoub said.
He told the Sunday Tribune the country was on track to achieve the herd immunity goal set for February 2022.
“Natural immunity coupled with vaccine-acquired immunity has helped us. We have good vaccine stocks, but infrastructure required for administering doses could become strained if we begin to reprioritise and stretch resources.”
On 2 November, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US recommended that children 5 to 11 years old receive the Pfizer-BioNtech paediatric vaccine. “That would include about 28m children in the US.” America was the first country to begin the roll-out for this age group.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla said from 14 November to 4 December, there was an increase in admissions of children aged under five in Tshwane, where the early resurgence of the fourth wave began.
“Children 18 years and younger comprised 21% of all admissions during this period. Data indicates an increase in both cases and admissions among children of all age groups, but no change in the proportion of children with COVID-19 who died,” he said.
Phaahla said although children made up 30% of the country’s population, they only accounted for 12% of cases, 5% of hospital admissions and less than 1% of deaths.
Michelle Groome, head of public health surveillance and response at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said all provinces were experiencing increases, although initially in younger age groups, but were moving into the older age groups.
“From 28 November to 3 December, 24,9% of those admissions tested positive, while the prior week had a positive percentage of 8,5%. We are seeing a surge in hospitalisations in every province except the Northern Cape. Most hospital admissions are not vaccinated individuals,” she said.
According to the NICD’S latest epidemiological report, KwaZulu-Natal had experienced a 146,81% increase in hospital admissions over the current 14-day observation period, while deaths over the same period dropped by 34,61%.
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