A child under 10 years of age became the youngest Australian to die with COVID since the start of the pandemic on Saturday. The death makes the third COVID fatality under 18 years old in the country.
The child “had other serious comorbidities” said the Victorian Health Department. According to infectious diseases paediatrician Robert Booy, half of the 25 deaths in COVID-positive children recorded in Britain up to March this year were in children with major medical problems.
However, this kind of messaging does not take away from the fact that many such deaths would still have been preventable with a vaccine. A child’s comorbidities are not an excuse for their death.
In early November, the US CDC became the first health regulator to approve COVID vaccination for children ages 5-11. Australia has only approved vaccination for over-12 year olds. A few weeks ago, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt indicated the jab is unlikely to be available to younger children until 2022. This is of particular concern considering the imminent reopening of international borders.
Although COVID has generally affected younger children far less severely than adults, the long-term consequences of infection remain largely unknown. Studies have revealed that significant numbers of COVID-positive children are affected by persistent symptoms. The prevalence of Long COVID in children and young people is only increasing as time goes on.
All five of Charlie Mountford-Hills’ children suffered from Long COVID – close to a year after contracting COVID, her 4-year-old was suffering from a sore neck, lethargy, stomach problems and headaches, and her 10-year-old from fatigue and gastric problems with pain around his heart.
Despite this, even in the US where the vaccine is now available for 5-11 year olds, only 27% of parents plan to vaccinate their children. A third say they’ll wait, and another third say they won’t vaccinate at all.
Parents are worried about possible risks associated with the vaccine – such as myocarditis, and other as-yet unknown side-effects. Or that the vaccine is under-researched. But potential side-effects like myocarditis has a very low risk rate in young children, and the number of kids enrolled in COVID vaccine trials is the same as for other diseases. Sometimes higher.
Aside from the risk of COVID itself, having an unvaccinated child adds significant stress for for vaccine-hesitant parents or those that cannot access the vaccine for their child. For example, parents of vaccinated children may avoid taking their kids to hospitals and doctors’ offices because they’re afraid of COVID risk. This can obviously have catastrophic consequences.
Less directly severe, parents may prevent their children from socialising, or participating in activities like sport. Or simply be more overbearing as a result of their anxiety. All these actions can have deeper consequences on children whose mental health has already been affected by pandemic stresses and extended lockdowns.
Ultimately, it comes down to what we know. It’s true that long term side-effects of COVID vaccines in children are unknown. But data on Long COVID in children is damning, and ever-evolving – such as that developed in the CloCK study.
And short-term risks of COVID and of vaccines are known. Potential short-term consequences of COVID far outweigh those of the vaccine, especially for at-risk kids.
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