In the second half of December, vaccines meant for children aged 5-11 will arrive in Estonia. Although the people of that age group tend to have lighter cases of the coronavirus, healthcare experts still recommend getting vaccinated, but efficacy and side-effects are causing hesitation among parents.
Although there are parents in Estonia who have awaited the vaccines for a long time, many still feel like there are too many unanswered questions when it comes to child vaccinations. Parents doubt the efficacy of the vaccines and possible side-effects, which may only show themselves years from now, ETV's weekly news show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" reported on Sunday evening.
"All of this is so new, I do not know what and how. We really do need to give researchers more time to study it," one parent said. "My 8-year old child has asked me what the vaccine is for and I do not know how to respond. I am not sure that it does not have any side-effects 10 years from now. No one knows that."
Another parent speaking to ERR said history has shown vaccines to be among the greatest inventions in the history of mankind, which will help avoid schools closing during the pandemic. "I think it is one thing I can do to keep society open," the parent said.
Another parent said their child had mumps as a 3-year old, because the rest of the children in their kindergarten group were unvaccinated. "The smartest thing to do would to try and achieve herd immunity," the parent said.
Irja Lutsar, head of the government's scientific council, told ERR that child vaccinations are necessary. She also understands parents who need a little more time before making a decision. "I certainly understand the parents and I recommend them to take some time. It is a family decision and must be thought through. Nothing happens if you take a few weeks or a month to decide. Your child is a very big responsibility," the virologist said.
"I tell older people to get vaccinated, because it can be life-saving for them. But for children, it is an option to avoid serious illness, which has not happened often for children. It is an option for children to keep living lives of children, keeping schools and hobby groups open," Lutsar said.
Tallinn Children's Hospital pediatrics chief Reet Raukas confirmed that there are very few cases of serious illness among children aged 5-11. At the same time, children can experience a multisystem inflammatory reaction, which has led 17 children to the hospital.
"It is not precisely known why the virus causes it, why the body overreacts this way. But it causes disturbances in the mouth, skin and mucous membranes, impaired lung function, kidney function, especially in the heart muscle and coronary arteries. They can even arrive in shock, so it is a very serious consequence," Raukas said. "This reaction has not happened after a vaccine and vaccines should avoid the infection to avoid further consequences."
So therefore, one of the reasons why healthcare experts recommend parents vaccinate their children, is avoiding serious cases and complications. And since children can spread the virus, vaccinations could also help curb the spread.
"Christmas is approaching. We would all like to be with our families and visit grandma. I would not dare do so if the group of children from age 5 and up is unvaccinated. And if we think about some older people being unvaccinated, we can expect another outbreak after Christmas, once these children bring illnesses home," Raukas added.
While parents may understand the risks of infections, fears of vaccination side effects outweigh the risks of the virus for now.
Irja Lutsar noted that studies conducted for child vaccinations are not as extensive as for adults, but the studies have been of high quality. There have been immunoblotting studies, which can save time on vaccine efficacy studies, since study results for adults can be carried over for children.
"We need to finish the vaccines faster during the pandemic and there is no reason to conduct pointless studies just to do research. If the study provides additional information, it is undoubtedly necessary, but immunoblotting studies have shown that we can bring the vaccines into the market. We know the correct dose and we know the side effects," Lutsar said.
The virologist added that parents should not worry about the fact that vaccines were implemented very quickly. "If we take the diphtheria-tetanus vaccine, or the polio vaccine, which has been widely praised, there were no clinical studies done. As soon as results from test tubes came in, the vaccines were put to use."
Additionally, parents could find security in the fact that the vaccines have been used for millions of children in the U.S., which has shown the vaccines to be efficient without many side effects.
Vaccines do not tend to have long-term effects, Lutsar said. "These long-term effects, which have been pointed out, have been refuted. The autism story is perhaps the best example, or neurological syndromes. The more science progresses, the more it becomes clear that there are genetic defects in play for neurological syndromes," the virologist said.
The vaccines meant for children should arrive in Estonia in the second half of December. Lutsar said vaccinations could be started in the start of 2022.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste