COVID-19, Child vaccination crucial to achieving herd immunity in Ghana

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Mr Pathak (standing, wearing blue shirt) observing a child being vaccinated at Gbampe
Mr Pathak (standing, wearing blue shirt) observing a child being vaccinated at Gbampe

On March 12, 2020, Ghana recorded its first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic, and two years down the lane the country is still reviewing existing data to support whether children below age 15 should be vaccinated against the disease.

The topic of childhood vaccination is a much talked about issue especially in recent times as more children between zero to 15 years are being infected with COVID-19 due to the third wave of the Omicron virus.

Ghana’s decision comes even after the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation that children above the age of five can receive COVID-19 vaccination to protect them from getting sick and from getting long COVID syndrome.

According to the WHO “majority of healthy children and adolescents, even if they get COVID, luckily do not yet very sick.”

However, children rarely can develop severe illness from COVID and especially those children who have some underlying illnesses, like children who are obese, or children who have some genetic abnormalities like Down’s syndrome.

Children who have diabetes, severe asthma or other respiratory diseases, and those who have underlying neurological conditions, myopathies, and muscle weaknesses and so on.”

“These children are at higher risk of developing severe disease. Also, a percentage of people, including children, develop symptoms after they have recovered from COVID, what is called post-COVID syndrome or long-COVID.”

Nonetheless, “the goal of vaccinating children and adolescents along with adults, is so that economies can open, educational institutions can stay open without any risk of having to shut down repeatedly,” the WHO says.

Despite the recommendation, Ghana is yet to vaccinate its first child against COVID-19 to give some form of protection to children and allay the fear of parents.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, an American professional association of pediatricians, over 13 million children have been infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic’s onset.

More than 42,000 children have been hospitalized and at least 1,240 children aged 18 and younger have died. 

Data from the Ghana Health Service as of June 8, 2022, indicates that a total of 20.8 percent of COVID-19 cases were among children aged between zero to 15 years old. And this number is expected to increase given the rate at which cases keep increasing.

As of August 10, 2022, a total of 18,731,846 vaccine doses have been administered to the Ghanaian population, a figure which excludes children.

Experts, including those at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, believe that there are many benefits to vaccinating children for COVID-19. The CDC recommends vaccines for children six months old and older, and experts at Johns Hopkins support those recommendations.

“Some of the coronavirus variants are very contagious, leaving unimmunized people at high risk of infection,” says Milstone. “Vaccination reduces the risk of infection, but most importantly, significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from this and other variants.”

Most International Human Rights Instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child among others define a child as a human being below the age of 18.

In Ghana, the Children’s Act of 1998 and the 1992 Constitution (section 29) in like manner also define a child as a human being below the age of 18 making it in compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

Children are vulnerable, tender, and small, therefore, are largely dependent on adults. The future of every child to a very large extent depends on the care, facilities, and opportunities they get during their childhood consequently, if children do not get what they need, they cannot grow up to become the expected worthy citizens of the country.

The idea that Children have special needs has now given way to the conviction that children have the same spectrum of rights just as their grown counterparts: civil and political rights, social, cultural, and economic rights.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children’s rights should be implemented without discrimination of any kind, all actions and policies should be guided by the best interests of the child, the participation of children should always be sought and all actions should aim at the promotion of the survival and development of children.

For this, proper care and facilities should be provided for all children.

It is based on these legal instruments that vaccinating children is important to ensure they are well protected.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Most people infected with the virus experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.

However, some will become seriously ill and require medical attention. Older people and those with underlying medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer are more likely to develop serious illnesses.

Anyone could get sick with COVID-19 and become seriously ill or die at any age.

The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well-informed about the disease and how the virus spreads.

Protect yourself and others from infection by staying at least 1 metre apart from others, wearing a properly fitted mask, and washing your hands or using an alcohol-based rub frequently. Get vaccinated when it’s your turn and follow local guidance.

The virus spreads from an infected person’s droplets through cough, sneezing, speaking, singing, or breathing. These particles range from larger respiratory droplets to smaller aerosols.

It is important to adhere to safety protocols by coughing into a flexed elbow and to stay home and self-isolate until one recovers if you feel unwell.

On February 3, 2022, Stancy Amankwa, a nurse visited the household of Maame Adjoa, a 70 year old woman during the mass COVID-19 vaccination exercise to vaccinate her and her family against the disease.

However, after vaccinating Maame Adjoa and her eligible family members, she asked Stacy the nurse to vaccinate her 12 year old grand-daughter, Ama Owusuaa, who has sickle cell and was at a higher risk of getting infected with the disease.

Stacy refused to give Ama the COVID-19 jab saying that children were not part of the vaccination exercise.

Maame Adjoa was disappointed that no matter how she tried to convince Stacy her grand daughter who is more vulnerable among the family members and could be infected at the least chance was not given the jab.

Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) in an interview said even though this was worrying existing data does not support COVID-19 vaccination for children.

He said the GHS does not joke with anything related to pregnant women and children and as such a National Immunisation Technical Advisory has been constituted to review all the evidence, the risk, safety, benefits, cost, and everything.

Dr Kuma-Aboagye said looking at the cost-benefit analyses; plans were far advanced to now as a matter of urgency extend the vaccination to cover the under-15 age group.

The Director General thus urged parents to ensure that their children adhere to safety measures put in place as they await the final decision of the Technical Advisory.

Ghana as of August 20, 2022, has recorded a total of 61,161 cases of COVID-19 with a death toll of 1,459.

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