JEDDAH: On Tuesday, Dec. 21, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health officially began its inoculation program for children aged 5-11 against COVID-19.
Earlier in November, the Saudi Food and Drug Authority approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the age group after completing the necessary studies to ensure safety and efficacy after referring to several international authorities.
According to Dr. Aya El-Sayed, pediatrician and neontology fellow, the Kingdom’s decision to begin the inoculation program came after “months of pediatric clinical trial investigations involving 4,500 children aged 5-11 from the US FDA (Food and Drug Authority).”
El-Sayed added: “Pfizer released new data on Oct. 22 stating that its vaccine is safe and is about 91 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 in that young age group.”
Twenty pediatric clinics have been established at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, with the venue decorated to appeal and encourage the young, with more clinics set to open in the next coming days across the Kingdom.
According to the ministry, priority will go to the vulnerable and immunocompromised. Appointment availability for remaining categories will be announced later.
On Oct. 20, the Kingdom made the decision to postpone school attendance, instead having children and students learn from their homes.
This delay was the result of ongoing studies about the viability and safety of different vaccines on children, as reported by the Saudi Press Agency.
El-Sayed stressed the importance of vaccinating children for them to go back to school and socialize safely with their classmates and teachers.
“Just like adults, children also get sick, and that is why our goal as medical practitioners is to reassure parents of the safety of the Pfizer vaccine, and eliminate the risk of unnecessary implications of the virus,” said El-Sayed.
While rare, complications such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome appear to be linked to the disease occurring in children infected with the virus.
A systematic review of case studies published in Translational Pediatrics Journal have shown that overall incidence of MIS-C is low, while children present the majority of cases diagnosed.
“The most important thing (is) to prevent some complications that only present in children, (such) as MIS-C, a condition where different body parts become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs, that occurs after infection by 4-6 weeks,” said El-Sayed.
She went on to add that the COVID-19 vaccine side effects are similar to other precautionary vaccines with side effects, including flu like symptoms, fever, headache, and fatigue.
As the omicron variant circulates across the globe causing an increase in the number of hospitalizations and nearly 100 deaths worldwide, the need for inoculating children has become a priority, a statement that was reiterated by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health spokesman, Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, at Sunday’s joint press conference.
The confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Kingdom more than doubled in the past 2 days, and the ministry stressed the importance of receiving the necessary doses and booster shots.
For months, health experts have reiterated the importance of receiving the vaccine doses to help raise herd immunity and ensure numbers of infections decline.
The ministry announced 222 new cases on Tuesday. The last time the Kingdom reported similar numbers was Aug. 30, when 221 cases were reported.
In addition, 106 new recoveries were reported, raising the total number of recoveries to 540,284. One COVID-19 related death raised the death toll to 8,865.