BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The government will begin vaccinating children aged 5-11 following the arrival of new Pfizer vaccines last week, the health ministry announced Monday.

Speaking at a news conference, Health Minister YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar said the vaccines will be offered on a voluntary basis, and will not be a condition for children “to enter any premises or engage in any activity”, including returning to school.

Children will be given two 10mg doses — a third of the adult dosage — spaced three weeks apart. Children previously infected with COVID-19 can be vaccinated six weeks after they have recovered.

Boosters will not be given to children at this stage, YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said, until there is “clear scientific evidence” supporting its use. Similarly, other vaccine types, such as Sinopharm, will not be used for children due to a lack of clinical data.

The minister added that MoH would not be setting specific vaccination targets since the jabs would be offered on a voluntary basis.

“Schools will reopen whether or not you are vaccinated… It’s not like when we began vaccinating children aged 12-18 [last year].

“At that time the community spread was high, so we had to take measures and make [vaccination] a ‘passport’ to attend school,” he explained.

FILE PHOTO: Minister of Health YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham Hj Jaafar speaks during a COVID-19 press briefing on March 5, 2022. Photo: Ain Bandial/The Scoop

He said that His Majesty the Sultan has already given consent for the vaccination programme to move forward and that it will kick off at a date to be announced soon.

Once open, parents and guardians will be able to book vaccination appointments via the BruHealth app or walk-in straight to vaccination centres.

‘High-risk children should be prioritised’

Parents of children with special needs or chronic disease should not shy away from getting their children vaccinated, said Dr Rohayati Hj Mohd Taib, head of pediatric services at MoH.

She said in Brunei there have been two recorded deaths among children infected with the coronavirus — both had underlying health issues and were not vaccinated.

“COVID-19 manifests in various ways in children. The majority will have mild symptoms, but those that have severe symptoms are children with co-morbidities such as obesity, neurological problems, chronic heart issues or immune problems.”

“And these are the patients we want to target because the risk of a serious infection in these children is high,” she said.

In Brunei, about 25 percent of all infections recorded were in children under 18. Twelve percent were under 12.

Although children experience milder and fewer symptoms than adults, they are still infected at the same rate.

Teenagers lining up at the Indoor Stadium vaccination centre on Dec 6, 2021. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

How effective is the Pfizer vaccine in kids?

The Pfizer jab was found to be 90 percent effective in children aged 5-11 during clinical trials, and studies did not find any serious side effects or deaths directly linked to the vaccine.

Even though initial protection has waned with the emergence of new COVID variants, MoH said the benefit derived from the vaccine in terms of preventing hospitalisation and death still “outweighed any associated risk”.

The health ministry said there are only three groups of children that should be excluded from getting the vaccine:

  • Those who previously experienced a severe allergic reaction to vaccination (called anaphylaxis);
  • Those who previously developed swelling as a result of vaccination; and
  • Those who were given the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and developed myocarditis.

“Despite the low risk of adverse effects from a COVID-19 infection, children and adolescents are significantly affected by COVID-19 restrictions including school closures, and restrictions on travel, sports and leisure activities,” said YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham.

“Among the effects on adolescents include mental health issues, disruption of education, increased emotional distress and other health problems including obesity.”

“What we want is for members of the public, especially parents, to assess the explanations given by MoH regarding vaccination. After explaining the benefits and risks, it’s up to you,” he said.