KARACHI: Persuasion, not coercion, should be used to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated against Covid-19. Consent forms for the vaccination should be designed in a simple manner that doesn’t create suspicion and confusion among parents. Only Pfizer vaccine should be administered to kids aged 12 and above as safety data of other Covid-19 vaccines is not available.

These points were raised by representatives of the Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) at a press conference held at the Karachi Press Club on Wednesday.

The event’s objective was to highlight the association’s stance on the recently launched Covid-19 vaccination drive for children.

During the question-answer session, the representatives were asked about a Sindh government notification barring unvaccinated students from college admission to which they replied that the association didn’t support coercion for vaccination.

“The association advocates effective counselling and believes that we should be able to create a strong understanding among parents that Covid-19 vaccination is important for their child’s health and that unvaccinated children pose a threat to other children and adults,” said PPA secretary general Dr Khalid Shafi.

PPA says kids should only be given Pfizer vaccine as safety data of other Covid-19 vaccines is not available

Clause about side effects confusing for parents

On the note mentioned in the Covid-19 parents’ consent form which says that the state isn’t responsible for the vaccine’s side effects (if any), the president-elect of the PPA, Prof Jamal Raza, said the association had recently met the health minister and other officials, shared their suggestions and apprised them that this clause in the consent form was confusing for parents.

“We were not consulted before the vaccination drive launch. Else, we would have given our input on the form’s preparation,” he said, adding that vaccination for under 18s should be done with parental consent.

Dr Shafi, however, was of the opinion that all vaccines including those for Covid-19 could have minor side effects and it’s unethical not to educate parents about them in the counselling process. “It’s only after experts reach the conclusion that the benefits of a vaccine outweigh its side effects that it’s used for the general population.”

The speakers suggested that vaccination for minors should be started first at specialised centres and arrangements for vaccination at schools could then be done in a planned manner.

“The government should separately collect and maintain data on children’s vaccination. It should monitor and record the whole process in a way that helps study vaccine’s side effects (if any),” said Prof Raza, adding that schools should ensure compliance to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent the spread of Delta or any other Covid-19 variant.

‘Vaccine is safe for children’

Earlier, the experts expressed their support to the government vaccination efforts for children above 15. In fact, they pointed out that the association wanted the government to start vaccinating children above 12.

They also shared data according to which so far there have been 86,693 cases of Covid-19 infection among children reported in Pakistan. Of them, 177 children died. There were 11,391 cases and 34 deaths in children under the age of five.

During the spread of the Delta variant, they shared, there was a surge in Covid-19 infection among children. And, while children with Covid-19 didn’t frequently develop serious illness, they might spread the disease to parents and grandparents.

“Covid-19 vaccination has now been started in children above 12 years of age in most countries and no major health problems have been observed. We want parents to know that the vaccine is safe for children,” said Sindh chapter president Prof Jalal Akbar, adding that propaganda against vaccination needed to be discouraged and parents should consult their physician in case of any concern.

The experts also urged the government to start administration of Covid-19 booster doses for health workers.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021

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