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Parents still reluctant to get their children vaccinated

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By Bahk Eun-ji

When asked about the government's decision to authorize COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged between 5 and 11, Kim Ju-yun, a mother of a 5-year-old girl in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, said she didn't want her young daughter to receive the vaccine.

"I suffered from a headache and high fever for a week after receiving the Pfizer vaccine. I honestly don't understand why such a young child has to get vaccinated, because I heard it rarely develops into severe illness or death even if they are infected," Kim said.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety approved the use of Pfizer's Comirnaty vaccine for young children on Wednesday, after reviewing the safety and efficacy of the two-dose regimen by an internal and independent panel of experts.

The ministry said the vaccine was found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing the virus in children aged 5 through 11, as a result of clinical trials in the United States, Finland, Poland and Spain, and there were no serious adverse reactions such as death or myocarditis.

Pfizer vaccines are administered to children aged between 5 and 11 in 62 countries, including the U.S., European Union member nations and the United Kingdom, with emergency approval. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said will establish a detailed plan and conduct expert deliberation in March.

The KDCA has been examining the effectiveness, cost benefits and parents' perceptions through research related to vaccinating children.

Kwon Geun-yong, head of the vaccination management team at KDCA, said, "We have sought expert opinions on the necessity of vaccination from pediatricians and infectious disease specialists."

The government, which has been cautious about vaccinating young children, made the decision to approve it as the number of infections in children and adolescents increased significantly amid the ongoing surge of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

As of Wednesday, 15.45 percent of the newly infected patients were aged under 9 and 12.82 percent were aged between 10 and 19.

Among the total number of infections, those aged between 5 and 11 accounted for 11.2 percent in the fourth week of January, 11.0 percent in the first week of February and 12.6 percent in the third week of February. In the third week of February, the proportion of new infections that occurred in those aged 60 to 80 was 12.88 percent.

However, many parents who are faced with the decision to vaccinate their children responded negatively to vaccinations for the age group.

Even after receiving the third dose of the vaccine, there are many Omicron infections, raising doubts about its efficacy.

In addition, there is a high reluctance to vaccinate young children as a few deaths from side effects have been reported related to vaccinations of adolescents aged between 12 and 18 last year.

In particular, the low fatality rate of Omicron is one of the reasons parents are showing hesitancy.

According to the KDCA, the rate of Omicron cases becoming severe in patients aged under 19 was 0.005 percent, and of those cases the fatality rate was 0.01 percent.

Even if the infections due to all of the variants are combined, there have been a total of four deaths in COVID-19 patients under the age of 10 so far, and the fatality rate converges to zero percent.

Experts showed mixed responses to vaccinating children of the age group.

"At the very least we could protect children with underlying diseases who are at higher risk of infection, rather than helping to curb the current increasing trend," said Jung Jae-hun, an assistant professor at Gachon University's preventive medicine department.

"The long-term side effects of the vaccination for children are still unknown," said Chon Eun-mi, a professor of respiratory medicine at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital.

"There are only a few children who have died from COVID-19 so far, and there is no benefit in getting the vaccine despite the possible side effects."

Bahk Eun-ji

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