By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Sri Lanka today reached a vaccination milestone with the commencement of the COVID-19 immunisation program for children aged between 12 and 19 at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children in Colombo.
Vaccination of this age group will begin with children with comorbidities and cognitive impairments and will later target children over the age of 15 before vaccinating children in the 12 to 15 age group.
The COVID-19 immunisation program for children over the age of 12 will commence in the Colombo District as well as Gampaha and Kalutara Districts next week. A few days later, it will be carried out countrywide.
During a discussion on the Government’s plan on vaccinating children and accompanying challenges, Professor in Paediatrics Pujitha Wickramasinghe said: “We see a spread of COVID-19 to some extent among children. However, the severity or impact is more among children with various complications rather than healthy children.” According to Paediatric Neurologist Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, several countries across the globe have begun vaccinating children. At present, it is only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that has been recommended for children by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Following recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (ACCD), the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) secured four million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for the program. These vaccines are expected in October.
“Children with comorbidities are being vaccinated, not because they are a pilot project, but because they face the highest risk, due to health as well as equal opportunity to education,” Dr. Padeniya said, addressing concerns about the vaccination drive for children.
While explaining that there is no hard and fast rule that vaccination must take place in order for schools to reopen, he said it is believed that vaccination can give rise to the belief that COVID-19 spread from schools will reduce.
According to officials, there are six million children in Sri Lanka, of which 4.2 million attend school. The first schools that will be reopened are those with less than 200 students.
“We have 10,150 schools in the country. Of this, 5,000 have less than 200 students, which is 50%,” Prof. Wickramasinghe said, adding that 90% of the country’s schools have less than 1,000 students. “This means that we can reopen a large number of schools because we can maintain social distancing,” he went on to say.
In addition to social distancing, students must also wear face masks and be provided handwashing facilities, he said.
“The country was closed for five weeks, and we are now beginning to reopen it. The biggest impact was on school children,” Prof. Wickramasinghe said, adding that students had the opportunity to physically attend school for only a handful of days this year.