By Nijel Aquino, Coleen Magahis, and Raxenn Lachica
When overseas Filipino worker Jill Balasan learned that the Kuwaiti government will begin inoculating minors against COVID-19, she immediately registered her 17-year-old daughter for the vaccination program.
The benefits of getting the jab, Balasan said, outweighed fears for any possible adverse effect on her daughter, who received her first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on May 4.
“We registered our daughter for the vaccine as soon as the Kuwait government gave advisory allowing children aged 15 to 17 to be vaccinated,” Balasan told Manila Standard in an online interview.
Here in the Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration on June 8 approved an expanded emergency use authorization (EUA) Pfizer's COVID jab for children ages 12 to 15.
But not all parents are as willing to let their kids get inoculated as Balasan.
“I am not in favor because those vaccines are not yet proven to be 100 percent safe and effective. From the very term they use—those are approved only for emergency use,” said Jena Magsambol, a mother of three minors from Laguna.
“Kung may nakita na ako dito sa Philippines na na-administer na - na mga bata, tapos nakita ko na safe talaga siya, pwede. Pero sa ngayon, hindi ko kayang i-risk ang mga bata,” she added.
Arra Obispado, a mother of three and a medical social worker in a government hospital, echoed the same concerns.
“I want to see further studies involving that age group [12 to 17 year olds] since the vaccines given to us adults are for emergency use only,” Obispado said in a separate interview.
In a television interview, Health spokesperson Usec. Maria Rosario Vergerie underscored the need to study vaccination among minors thoroughly.
“We would want to study further. We want to have more studies being published because these are children that we are talking about and we want to be very, very sure that this is going to be safe for them,” Vergeire said.
The Task Group on Vaccine Evaluation and Selection (TG VES), however, has excluded minors from participating in vaccine trials.
“Adults of legal age have a more developed immune system compared to minors, which has been the primary basis of the trials of vaccine efficacy and safety,” said Department of Science and Technology Usec. Rowena Cristina Guevara in a statement.
“Only those of legal age, 18 years old above, are allowed to give ethical and legal consent on their own. On the other hand, additional permission from the parents or legal guardian is needed for those in ages 17 below.”
“It would be better if 'acceptable efficacy and safety data' would be obtained first among the adult participants before expanding the trials to include minors,” Guevara added.
As of June 10, the Department of Health has logged a total of 1,293,687 cases of COVID-19 in the country, with 1,214,454 recoveries and 22,312 deaths.
At least 127,334 belonging to the 0 to 19-year-old age group tested positive for the virus, accounting for about 9.84 percent of the total cases. Of the number, 122,999 recovered while 382 died, data from the DOH showed.
A number of countries have already planned or even started vaccination campaigns for the 12 to 17-year-old age group since the Pfizer vaccine was approved for minors by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Countries planning or considering to include this demographic to their vaccination programs include Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, and Norway.
The Philippines is among the countries that have approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for minors aged 12 to 17, along with France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong, Chile, and Canada.
Germany, Hungary, San Marino, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Kuwait, and the United States have started their vaccination program for minors.