【明報專訊】The Hong Kong government has decided to lower the minimum age for receiving the BioNTech vaccine to 12 and the arrangements concerned will be announced this week at the earliest. The lethality of the COVID-19 virus is the highest for elderly people. But that does not mean it is ''all right'' for minors to contract the disease. Some local cases of confirmed infection have shown that children and adolescents infected with the virus may develop serious complications and suffer from a sequela even after a recovery. Countries like the US, Canada and Singapore have already approved COVID-19 jabs for children aged 12 or above in accordance with the results of clinical trials. Local experts in the city also believe that most of the adolescents are suitable for the shot. The Hong Kong government should conduct publicity campaigns more adequately and offer explanations in greater detail to parents so as to reduce their vaccine hesitancy.
Many countries have recently begun exploring the possibility of COVID-19 vaccination for children. After a phase 3 clinical trial in Germany for BioNTech's Comirnaty vaccine showed that the vaccine is safe and highly effective for adolescents, recently the US, Canada and Singapore approved one after another the use of Comirnaty in minors aged 12 or above. On the mainland, the National Medical Products Administration has also received phase 1 and 2 clinical trial data of children vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine, which shows that the vaccine is safe and effective for children. The country has approved expanding the age coverage to above three for the emergency use of the Sinovac vaccine. In Hong Kong, as approving the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines requires phase 3 clinical trial results, it is believed that the age threshold for the Sinovac vaccine in the city will not be brought in line with that on the mainland for the time being. As for the Comirnaty vaccine, last week the government approved the application for lowering the minimum age of receiving the vaccine to 12, thus starting the preparation for vaccinating pupils.
Now that we have scientific data that supports adolescent vaccination, it is reasonable and justifiable to ask secondary schools to take the lead to act accordingly and pave the way for a return to the pre-pandemic model of full day education. As the city has not seen any major outbreaks on campuses so far since the pandemic started, some are critical about the necessity of rolling out strict anti-pandemic measures for schools, for example, vaccinating the students. Still, as said by government advisory expert Yuen Kwok-yung, it could have been by sheer luck merely that we have not seen any campus outbreaks so far.
Studies show that if a school has failed to adopt necessary anti-pandemic measures, the campus environment may enable the virus to spread easily and school staff will face a higher risk than students. In Israel, a secondary school became the site of an outbreak after two infected students went to lessons on the campus. The school had more than 1,000 students, of whom more than 10% got infected. The infection rate among the school staff even reached 16%. Furthermore, the existence of mutant virus strains has also added variables to the situation. After a resurgence of cases in Singapore last month, the authorities announced recently opening up COVID-19 inoculation for all students aged above 12. That was exactly because of the rising number of student cases and it cannot be ruled out that the mutant virus may pose a greater threat to children.
Local experts have pointed out that most adolescents have a strong constitution and are free from the worries of so-called ''three-highs'' (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol). Basically, those who have a history of asthma, allergic rhinitis or eczema are still safe to get the shot. Even if a parent suspects that they are unsuitable for inoculation themselves, they can still allow the children to get the jab. The government must rely on publicity and persuasion to seek co-operation from schools and parents on encouraging students to receive the shots.
明報社評 2021.06.08：鼓勵學童打疫苗 汲取教訓減猶豫
■/ Glossary 生字 /
a person who is under the age at which you legally become an adult and are responsible for your actions
to get an illness
the condition of a person's body and how healthy it is