Take thorough precautions to protect children from coronavirus infection

The percentage of children being infected with the novel coronavirus has been on the rise. It is imperative that the adults in their lives take sufficient precautions to prevent infections among children.

According to a tally by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, people aged under 20 accounted for less than 10% of new infections last year by age group. However, the figure has exceeded 10% since March this year.

The increase is believed to be due to the spread of coronavirus variants that are thought to be highly contagious. Children were initially seen as less susceptible to the virus. However, a succession of infection clusters has occurred at childcare centers and schools, heightening the need to strengthen COVID-19 measures with a renewed sense of urgency.

People aged 12 or older are currently eligible for vaccinations conducted by local governments and other entities. Although side effects such as fever and pain have been reported, inoculation has the significant benefit of reducing the risk of infection at home and at school. That could help protect others around those who have been inoculated.

To avert infections among elementary school students and young children who cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccine, it is important for adults to take precautions not to bring the virus to them in the first place.

According to analysis by a health ministry research team on data from the Japan Pediatric Society, many children infected with the virus developed mild symptoms, and nearly 90% got better without special treatment.

Children are less likely to become seriously ill, but there are concerns that aftereffects could remain. It is hoped that the ministry will compile scientific knowledge about COVID-19, including subsequent effects.

According to the research team, 70% of the infections among children occurred at home, and nearly half of them were infected through their fathers. Schools accounted for about 5% of the total infection cases among children, and kindergartens and childcare centers combined for another 5%.

It is crucial for adults who come into contact with children to thoroughly take basic preventive measures such as washing hands and wearing masks. Local governments must promptly vaccinate teachers, childcare workers and relevant personnel.

Young children cannot accurately report changes in their physical condition. Other infectious diseases involving persistent fever and coughing have also been rampant. Adults should have children see a doctor early, depending on their condition. It is desirable to have children get regular health checkups for infants and toddlers, and receive ordinary vaccinations and other medical care as scheduled.

It is also worrisome that children have been under psychological stress as the pandemic has been prolonged.

According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Child Health and Development on elementary, junior high and high school students, 76% of respondents showed signs of stress, with many giving responses such as “I feel really bad when I think about the coronavirus” and “I get irritated easily.”

It is important to catch signs of children seeking help and not overlook changes in their physical condition, including poor sleep and loss of appetite. It is hoped that children’s healthy growth will be supported in such ways as encouraging them to play in well-ventilated places, while avoiding excessive restrictions on their activities.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 1, 2021.