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Why experts opposed govt plan to vaccinate children

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By Tonny Abet

The Ministry of Health request for Shs1.1 trillion to purchase Covid-19 vaccines for children has attracted mixed reactions from experts. 

The experts say it is wrong to start prioritising vaccination of children when the 4.4 million highly vulnerable people have not received the jabs. 

Uganda has only vaccinated 1.1 million people against the overall target of 21.9 million, excluding children.  Majority of those vaccinated have received only one dose.

The plan to vaccinate children aged 12 to 18 years  follows a proposal by President Museveni and First Lady, also minister of Education Janet Museveni,  to have children immunised against Covid-19 as a prerequisite for reopening schools.

Dr Henry Kajumbula, the head of infection control at the government scientific advisory committee on Covid-19, yesterday told Daily Monitor that vaccinating children is not in line with the initial plan of the Health ministry to cut hospitalisations and deaths.

“They [children] are not at very high risk of developing severe disease. Even if you vaccinate all the children, it will not stop the transmission [of the coronavirus],”  Dr Kajumbula said.

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Dr Kajumbula’s  reasoning is reinforced by information from World Health Organisation (WHO)  that the Covid vaccines do not provide full (100 per cent) protection so transmission and infections can still occur “despite having been fully vaccinated.” 

Severe illness
The WHO said it is, however, sure that the vaccines reduce the risk of developing severe illness and death. 

He said the most prudent way “is to still maintain the target of vaccinating those who are at highest risk of severe illness even if they plan to reopen schools.”

However, the reporter  didn’t get information from the Ministry of Health on the total number of children who have contracted Covid and those that have died since the onset of the pandemic.

But Dr Misaki Wayengera, the head of scientists advising the government on Covid-19, said: “We are vaccinating children who have underlying illnesses such as diabetes and asthma. Not every child is supposed to be vaccinated.

We do not have vaccines for older people, so how do we look for vaccines for children?”
Dr Charles Olaro, the director of clinical services, said the fact that the virus has not killed many children doesn’t stop the need to vaccinate them.

He explained  that vaccinating children is central to the Covid-19 fight by curbing the transmission.  “The children may not get the severe form of Covid-19 but they will carry the virus to the elderly who are more vulnerable then we shall have children who are orphans,” Dr Olaro said.

Asked whether they are under pressure to vaccinate children because of the increasing pressure from the United Nations Children Fund that schools should be reopened as soon as possible, Dr Olaro said inoculating children is premised on protecting public health. 

Dr Charles Ayume, the head of Parliamentary Health Committee, said the public should be open to new development such as the need to vaccinate children because Covid-19 is a new disease with many mysteries.

The Education ministry officials yesterday announced that they had abandoned the plan and decided to focus on vaccination of teachers before reopening of schools.  

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