Minors will be free to opt out of their Covid shot
Jabs will not be mandatory for minors aged 12 to 17, health authorities reassured in an announcement Tuesday, as they admitted the benefits are not particularly high for healthy children and adolescents.
“As children in general are not in the high-risk group [for Covid-19], we don’t believe that vaccinations should be mandatory nor that the benefits are large,” Hong Jeong-ik, head of vaccine distribution planning at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), said in a press briefing on Tuesday.
However, he added, “we believe vaccinations are necessary for children and adolescents with underlying diseases as they have higher risk in case of infection.”
Foreign media such as the Guardian and the Telegraph recently reported that teenage boys are more at risk of heart inflammation following Pfizer jabs than being hospitalized from Covid-19, citing studies by researchers at the University of California. The British government recommended a single dose for all children aged 12 to 15, while advising two doses if they are at higher risk.
Health officials emphasized that children and adolescents aged 12 to 17 will be able to choose whether to be vaccinated or not on their own, like adults aged 18 and older. The Education Ministry and the KDCA said they will announce a detailed vaccination plan — including the dates and vaccine types — for the 12-to-17 age group within the month, as the country is set to offer vaccines to that age group sometime in the fourth quarter.
Korea is has been giving jabs nationwide to the general public aged 18 to 49 from Aug. 26, and the second inoculations of this group are scheduled to wrap up in the end of October. It is expected that the country's youngest group yet will be invited to get a jab by then.
Although the government never made vaccines mandatory, high school seniors — who were the first teenagers to get jabbed — were allowed to choose whether to receive their shots and could get vaccinated as a school group during the summer vacation in preparation for the college entrance exam, or CSAT, scheduled for November. According to the KDCA, 88.8 percent of all those associated with the CSAT this time around are fully vaccinated.
In addition, some employees, such as those working in nursing homes, who have thus far refused to get vaccinated have been required to undergo regular Covid-19 tests — which some perceived to be similar to vaccine mandates.
Such mandate-like measures caused growing concerns for parents with children aged 12 to 17 on whether the Education Ministry would mandate vaccinations for students to expand in-person classes.
“We are approaching a way to give children and adolescents aged 12 or older a chance to get vaccinated,” Hong said, while promising to provide objective and scientific data to let people make their own decisions.
Health experts who attended the briefing session also explained that vaccinations for children and adolescents should be approached carefully.
Choi Won-suk, a professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Ansan Hospital, said, “The 12-to-17 age group has the lowest risk of Covid-19.
“The question of whether vaccination of that age group has enough benefits in terms of public health would be different depending on each country’s virus situation,” he said.
“If school reopens and more face-to-face meetings are held in classes, infections may spread within schools.” Choi continued, “[Inoculation for minors under 17] shouldn’t be discussed with the goal of vaccination rate, unlike other age groups.”
Korea recorded 1,497 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, with the total caseload coming to 275,910.
Seven more virus deaths were added, raising the death toll to 2,367.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]