How to Protect Our Children from COVID-19's New and Infectious Variants

How is the B1617 mutation of the Covid-19 virus affecting us?

Recently, the MOE had to move swiftly to close down schools and move all children to Home Based Learning, just 2 weeks ahead of the summer break. This was considered a necessary move as more than 40 children tested positive for the Covid-19 within a span of 4 weeks in Apr-May. Most of these infections were contracted in household settings with only 1 case that of a student of ACS (Junior) considered to be a case of school transmission. Nevertheless, it is a worrying situation for students, parents and educators.

The sharp rise in cases has been attributed to the B1617 mutation of the SARS coV-2 virus which was first detected in October 2020 and has led to massive upsurge of Covid infections in India and many other countries across the world. Experts in Singapore have found no evidence that this strain is impacting children more than adults or is more deadly for them. However, in contrast to the first wave that hit Singapore’s shores in 2020; this time many more children have been affected. This might be due to the strain being more transmissible and more aggressive in nature. Cluster settings as found in the Learning Point tuition centre allowed the virus to spread amongst children from different schools.

Associate Professor Sylvie Alonso, co-director of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s Infectious Diseases Translational Research Programme at NUS, said that “We seem to also see that the B1617 variant is overall more transmissible than the previous variants – across all age groups – hence affecting more children as well.”

The good part is, as MOH and MOE clarified from time to time, that most infected children in Singapore have had mild symptoms or have been asymptomatic. To put parents’ mind at ease, besides shifting lessons to HBL, the government has proactively stepped up its vaccination measures. In his address to the nation followed by the Multi-ministry Task Force Press Conference on 31st May, 2021, PM Lee announced that children in the age group of 12-18 would be eligible to receive vaccinations starting June 1st, 2021. The nationwide vaccination exercise for more than 400000 students from various institutions and cohorts is expected to be completed by August, as per MOE.

FAQs on Covid-19 Vaccination exercise for Children:

Is my child eligible for the vaccine?

Yes, if he or she is aged 12 and above as on 1st June. SMS invites will be sent to parents or guardians of children who are 12 years old as of Jun 1. Children who turn 12 at a later date in the year will be invited at a later date.

Which vaccine will my child get?

Children above the age of 18 can choose between Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines. However, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use in the age group of 12-18 based on approval from the Health Science Authority (HSA).

How will I know when it’s my child’s turn?

As per the MOE, slots for vaccinations will be available from Jun 3. The exercise will kickstart with graduating cohorts from secondary schools and the pre-university levels, for example students sitting for the GCE N-, O- or A-Level examinations later this year. Over the next two weeks, the remaining full-time students in schools including privately-funded schools, madrasahs and special education schools and institutes of higher learning will receive their invitations to register for the vaccine.

The parent/ guardian will receive an SMS to book an appointment for vaccination on behalf of the child. As on 2nd June, 52000 students were already sent invites via SMS and half of them have already taken appointment. Parental or guardian consent is required for students below 18 while booking the slots via the National Appointment System and will apply for both doses of the vaccine.

Are there any special vaccination centres for children?

The children can walk in to any of the Island wide Community centres to get vaccinated. Additionally, 4 venues have been designated especially to expedite the process- ITE East, ITE West, ITE Central and the Raffles Convention Centre.

Parents or guardians of students aged 13 and above need not accompany the child to the vaccination centre, but they can if they wish to. Children who are 12 years old and all students in special education schools must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The ministry will also deploy a mobile vaccination team to special education schools to carry out the vaccinations for eligible special education students who might find it challenging to visit a vaccination centre.

What if my child has an adverse reaction after the vaccination?

These are the listed possible side-effects of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine that usually last up to 48 hours and can be easily managed at home with paracetomol and rest:

  • Fever, chills
  • Swelling/ pain/ redness / tenderness at injection site
  • Headache, muscle ache, joint pain
  • Tiredness
  • Lymph node swelling

As per Singapore director of medical services Kenneth Mak, the safety profile of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is very similar to that of other vaccines normally offered to children.

Children generally have a stronger immune system compared to adults, and they may experience a slightly higher incidence of minor effects like fever, injection site pain, tiredness, and headaches compared to adults. These reactions will resolve within an average of one to two days. In fact, these reactions demonstrate that their immune system is functioning well and responding to the vaccines.” said Prof Mak.

Professor Mak also added that based on the ongoing studies, efficacy of the vaccine for this age-group is very high.

Protecting the Younger Children from Covid-19 and its Virulent Strains

As children below 12 are not eligible for vaccines as yet, it is important to continue following safe distancing measures and hygiene protocols to keep our young children safe and healthy.

  • Encourage your child (aged 6 and above)to wear the mask properly with the nose and chin covered.
  • Avoid crowded places and remind children to maintain safe distancing from their friends while playing or talking. In Phase 2 (Heightened alert) group size is already limited to 2 and children need to be reminded to follow the rule diligently. As much as possible, keep the children at home.
  • Remind children to wash their hands frequently and properly with soap and water. Also, give them a sanitizer to carry and use when outside the house.
  • Promote good immunity in children by encouraging them to eat healthy food, sleep well and exercise. You might also give children Vitamin C supplements and probiotics to support overall health and well-being.
  • Take your child promptly to a doctor if your child is feeling unwell and follow doctor’s advice.
  • You – the parent/ caregiver of young children should get vaccinated as and when you become eligible. When parents get vaccinated they indirectly protect their children as well.