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What are you need to know about COVID-19 and your teen

Oct 19, 2021

By Annisa Essack

South Africa’s teenagers make up 11% of the population.

According to the health department’s acting director-general, Nicholas Crisp, South Africa has enough COVID-19 jabs to vaccinate up to half of the country’s 6.5-million children between 12 and 17. Each child will be given one dose of Pfizer’s vaccine before returning to school after the December holidays or starting their tertiary education in 2022.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAPHRA) for use in people 12 years and older. The health department has set to have 3.25 million children between 12 and 17 years vaccinated by mid-January. As Matric exams are due to begin on 27 October, matric students will be prioritised for the jab to recover from any side effects.

Crisp says that teens will not be vaccinated at schools this year; the programme may expand to be included in 2022. For now, though, adolescents, who constitute 11% of the South African population, will be able to receive their shots at private or public sites.

Although teens are less likely than adults to fall seriously ill with COVID-19, vaccinating will help reduce absenteeism in classrooms and lower the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.

According to the Children’s Act, there is no need for teens’ parents to provide approval should they choose to receive the immunisation. Children aged 12 to 17 years can consent to medical treatment and surgery without parental consent.

Studies revealed a small risk of inflammation to the heart muscle known as myocarditis or to the outer lining of the heart, called pericarditis. Thus, teens will only receive a single dose of the vaccine. The country’s ministerial advisory committee on COVID-19 vaccines (VMAC) wants to allow more time for additional safety data to be gathered about potential side effects within this group.

Data from the US government’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC) shows that for every million Pfizer second doses given to 12 to 17-years-old boys, between 56 and 69  developed myocarditis or pericarditis over four months. For girls, eight to ten developed the conditions for every million jabs taken. The good news is that most people who developed these conditions due to the vaccination recover within a few days.

Scientists agree that the benefits of vaccinating teens far outweigh the risks. The studies have shown Pfizer’s shot provides very high levels of protection against developing symptomatic COVID-19 and against COVID-related hospitalisation, and to be safe to use in teens.

The United Kingdom has chosen to vaccinate their teens between 12 and 17-years with only one jab, basing their decision on US data. According to an independent report published by the country’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, showed myocarditis among teens and young men were six to seven times lower after their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

In the UK, children with underlying conditions that could make them seriously ill with COVID-19 are being given two doses within eight weeks apart with close monitoring.

It is crucial to ensure that older people continue to receive their shots. Providing immunisation to younger South Africans will help increase the population immunity or overall protection within the population.

Thus far, the country’s roll-out has mainly focused on the groups of people most likely to become severely ill and require hospitalisation or die from COVID-19.

Presently, South Africa is vaccinating approximately 200 000 people daily, which is only half the expected daily vaccinations promised by the health department in July.

With plans to vaccinate 70% of adults with a single dose of the vaccine by year-end and with just about 90 days left, we’ve only reached the halfway mark.

Initially, it was thought to be at a lower risk of being infected with the COVID-19 and therefore not seen as the main transmission driver. According to the CDC, newer studies have put paid to this assumption. Children may not fall seriously ill with COVID-19, but they can still spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus to others.

Almost 12% of COVID-19 cases in South Africa are in children under the age of 19. August data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) shows that this group accounts for approximately 1 in 20 hospital admissions in the country. At the same time, less than 1% of in-hospital deaths are among children.

Getting the children onboard into the vaccine roll-out will help reduce the virus spreading within the population. As the vaccines minimise transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it makes people less likely to spread the COVID-19.

Vaccinating teenagers will also allow matriculants to be protected ahead of their final exams, says Crisp, and help to reduce absenteeism in classrooms.

To travel internationally after having a single shot of Pfizer, Crisp says parents will have to check with the country they are travelling to, as all governments have their own COVID-19 vaccine policies.

But, he says, as several countries, including Hong Kong, the UK, and Norway, have recommended only one dose of Pfizer’s vaccine for children between 12 and 17, they’re likely to have adjusted definitions of “full vaccination” for this group that allows for entry into those countries.



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