Vaccination of minors vital step toward safe school reopening 

Children between 12 and 17 years old who are immunocompromised will be prioritized in the inoculation program for the country’s youth that would boost efforts to reopen schools after more than a year and a half of lockdown.  The Department of Health has announced that adolescents in this age bracket with comorbidities have been included in the A3 priority sector of the national vaccination campaign. Informed consent by parents or guardians as well as medical certification will be required. 

Oct. 15 has been set as the target date for launching this program in Metro Manila that has been the epicenter of coronavirus infections in the country. Pilot areas in NCR include Manila, Quezon City, Makati, Pasig, Taguig and Mandaluyong. After a month of pilot implementation, the vaccine rollout for minors will be focused in NCR and in other regions of the country that have attained 50 percent vaccination level of the elderly or the A2 priority group. These include Calabarzon, Central Luzon, Central Visayas (including Cebu) and Davao region.  

Comorbidities or underlying medical conditions that make children in this age group vulnerable are the following: medical complexity, genetic conditions, neurologic conditions, metabolic/endocrine, cardiovascular disease, obesity, HIV infection, tuberculosis, chronic respiratory disease, renal disorders and hepatobiliary disease. This list was drawn up by the DOH in consultation with the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society.

Six hospitals have also been identified as pilot venues to ensure close monitoring of the children after they are vaccinated.  These are: Philippine Children’s Medical Center, National Children’s Hospital, Philippine Heart Center, Pasig City General Hospital, Fe del Mundo Medical Center and Philippine General Hospital.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on minors. Recently, 2.7 million doses of Pfizer vaccines were delivered to the country through the Covax global sharing facility.

The vaccination of minors complements the Department of Education’s pilot implementation of limited, face-to-face classes.  The Philippines is among the last countries in the world to reopen schools since the onset of the global pandemic. Already known to be lagging behind their Asian peers in key proficiency areas, Filipino children stand to suffer further stunting and scarring effects that are outcomes of prolonged lockdowns of schools.

DepEd has had to hurdle and mitigate extreme difficulties in efforts to assure learning continuity through the use of blended, distance learning methods.  Major challenges include weak internet connectivity, lack of gadgets among teachers and students, “inequalities and unevenness in access to technology, household resources, and student skills for self-learning.”

Vaccination of minors will increase the level of population protection, the preferred term that is now being used in lieu of “herd immunity.” Importantly, retrofitting of school facilities to ensure proper air ventilation and physical distancing and strict enforcement of health and safety protocols would have to be assured.

High vaccination levels among educators, learners and school employees will go a long way toward establishing a safer environment that would facilitate the eventual full reopening of schools.