A government plan to immunize young children against the coronavirus has hit resistance not previously seen during Thailand’s months-long vaccination campaign.
Parents – who likely got vaccinated themselves – are expressing objections to allowing jabs for kids ages 5-11 much like the anti-vax sentiment seen in the United States and Europe.
The government is preparing to use the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children starting next month as part of its mass-vaccination drive, according to the Public Health Ministry.
The vaccination of children, to take place in their schools, will be voluntary and parents can decide whether they want their offspring to be inoculated.
“I am still undecided but I want the best for my child,” Prenapa Yimlamai, a shopkeeper in Bangkok who is the mother of a five-year-old girl, told UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner. “I don’t want her to fall ill [with Covid-19] but I am a bit concerned about possible side effects of the vaccine.”
She cited the case of a 16-year-old girl who died late last year a few days after receiving her second Pfizer shot as a result of blood clots that developed in both her lungs, according to news reports.
Several other teenagers have reportedly died following their vaccination in Thailand over the past few months.
Vaccine hesitancy in Thailand has been minimal among adults. Since the government launched a mass vaccination drive last June, more than 45 million people in a country of 70 million, or 65% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.
But as the government moves to immunize younger people, the hesitancy has grown.
Within days of the launch of Thailand’s campaign to vaccinate children ages 12-17 with the mRNA vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, a wave of online discussions expressing hesitancy towards the vaccine erupted. In online posts containing the hashtag #ไฟเซอร์นักเรียน (“Pfizer for students”), concerns were raised about the side effects of vaccines and fear that Pfizer will be mischievously replaced by shots of CoronaVac, made by China’s Sinovac Biotech. Both reasons have reflect the significant mistrust young Thais have in the current military-backed government.
Nearly three months later, the government still hasn’t met its goals for vaccinating teens.
Now, with the push to jab preschoolers and primary school-aged children. The opposition has spread to parents, some of whom liken the plan to child abuse in comments posted online.
“[This is] unforgivable child abuse of the very worst kind,” one commenter noted, echoing a sentiment expressed by many others.
“Where is the official risk-benefit analysis for jabbing kids to be published? I’m pretty sure that unnecessary medical interventions are illegal just about everywhere. Children should not be used to protect the old,” another commenter noted.
Children and adolescents tend to experience no or only mild symptoms when they contract Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization.
“Overall, there are proportionally fewer symptomatic infections, and cases with severe disease and deaths from Covid-19 in children and adolescents, compared with older age groups,” the WHO says.
The question whether children as young as five should receive inoculation against Covid-19 remains a hotly debated topic among experts worldwide.
Generally, vaccination is recommended for children with severe underlying health conditions such as diabetes and respiratory ailments in order to protect them against severe disease should they contract Covid-19.