Devise ways to promote vaccinations for younger generations

Novel coronavirus infections are spreading among children amid the seventh wave of the pandemic. In many cases, children have mild symptoms, so there tends to be a delay in taking relevant steps. It is necessary to expedite the establishment of a system for treatment and prevention.

Due to the explosive spread of the virus, new infections among people aged 19 or younger have exceeded as many as 300,000 a week, double what they were at the peak of the sixth wave.

One factor for this is low COVID-19 inoculation rates among young people. The vaccination rate for the third dose hovers between 30% and 39% for those aged 12-19. As for children aged 5-11, inoculations for whom began in March, only 18% of them have received their second shot, making it an urgent task to promote vaccinations among the younger generations.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has decided to begin in September at the earliest to urge parents to get children aged 5-11 vaccinated under the Immunization Law. It said the decision was made because the vaccines’ efficacy and safety have been confirmed. The Japan Pediatric Society has also begun recommending that children be vaccinated.

However, some parents and guardians are hesitant to have their children inoculated because of concerns over the vaccines’ adverse effects. It is essential for the central and local governments and academic societies to provide adults with thorough information on the efficacy and safety of vaccines so that they can be convinced to make this choice.

As long as the government will urge adults to get their children inoculated, it needs to establish a system to ensure that vaccines are provided to each inoculation site without a hitch. It is important to devise ways to make vaccination more accessible, such as by increasing the number of sites and expanding their opening hours.

No vaccine has yet been approved in the country that can be administered to children under 5. It will also be important to encourage people of parenting age whose vaccination rates are low to get a third shot in an effort to prevent infections within households.

In the seventh wave, there have been emergency cases in which children were hospitalized with convulsions or acute encephalopathy caused by high fever. Analysis has shown that the omicron variant, which is still rampant, tends to cause more high fever and convulsions than the delta variant, which was dominant last summer.

Some hospitals that take in children who have contracted COVID-19 have run out of beds, affecting medical services for other patients. The lack of hospitals where children can be admitted is said to be another factor in the strain on front-line medical institutions for infants and children.

It is important for the central and local governments to secure hospital beds for children infected with the virus. They should consider flexible operations, such as allowing general hospitals’ pediatric departments to accept children with relatively mild symptoms as inpatients.

If COVID-19 testing can be done easily at home using test kits, it will make it easier for parents and guardians to respond quickly to the situation. The public has become increasingly distrustful of the government over the lack of access to kits. In addition, some poor-quality kits are being distributed.

The government should bring about a situation as soon as possible in which people can purchase kits at pharmacies and online free from anxiety.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 22, 2022)