Malaysia will embark upon a mass Covid-19 vaccination drive targeting teens below 18 years old, kicking off in the state of Sarawak on September 9.
“We will start with teens next week in Sarawak, as the state has reached its benchmark of 80% vaccinated adults,” Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin says in a report published by The Star. Khairy has clarified that the vaccination drive in Sarawak will commence with 16- and 17-years-olds, while 12- to 15-years-olds are limited the high-risk group such as those with chronic medical conditions. After which, it will be extended to those aged 14 and 15, as well as 12 and 13. The Klang Valley and Labuan are expected to follow suit. Separately in another news report, Sabah is expected to vaccinate adolescents by the end of October.
The Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force-Adolescent estimates 60% of teens between 12 and 17 years old in Malaysia will receive at least one dose by November. A loftier target is set for next year of which 80% of adolescents will be fully vaccinated before schools reopen in 2022.
Several countries in the world have already extended their vaccination drives to encompass teenagers as the majority of their adult populations have been inoculated. At the forefront of this development is the US where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 12 years old and above be immunised.
At present, the sole Covid-19 vaccine authorised for the age group from 12 to 17 is made by Pfizer. Although children and teenagers are less affected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, they can act as a reservoir, thus carrying and passing the virus on to others, which could include members of their households who might not have been vaccinated.
In Malaysia, the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine will be used. With schools set to reopen in October, this ambitious initiative will go a long way to ensure the school environment is safer for students, teachers, parents and communities.
Initially authorised for emergencies, the Pfizer vaccine became the first of its kind to be granted full approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for individuals 16 years old and older, while for adolescents between 12 and 15 years old, it remains under emergency use authorisation.
Based on results from an earlier clinical trial, the vaccine was 91% effective in preventing Covid-19 disease. The status quo has since been altered drastically by the prevalent Delta strain. From more recent studies by Public Health England, the vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalisation after 2 doses. The two-shot vaccine is administered 3 weeks apart and is considered complete 2 weeks after the second dose.
HealthDay reports that over 91% teens experienced minor common side-effects. This is within expectations as teenagers have a more robust immune system. 4% of recipients experienced myocarditis, which is a heart problem caused by a viral infection. Symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath and arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm).
Nonetheless, the CDC asserts that the benefit of vaccination continues to outweigh the potential dangers of contracting Covid-19. Natural infections of Covid-19 carry higher risks of myocarditis than vaccination. Studies have also shown that asymptomatic infections can lead to pulmonary damage.
The FDA clarifies that myocarditis tends to be more common among males under 40 years of age vis-à-vis females and older males. The observed risk is the highest among males between 12 and 17 years of age, particularly within the 7 days following the second dose. It also says that most cases are resolved.
“Myocarditis never sounds good. You can say mild myocarditis all you want, but it’s also going to scare people, because the inflammation of the heart muscle is always going to be seen as worrisome. But it does appear to be self-limiting, short-lived, not fatal and not associated with coronary artery abnormalities,” assures Dr Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, quoted by HealthDay.
So teens of Malaysia, are you ready to receive your Covid-19 vaccine jab?