Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh holds up a copy of the Trinidad Guardian during the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 update yesterday.

As the Ministry of Health notes an uptick in young children falling ill with COVID-19, Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh says the Government is anxious to start vaccinating children between ages five to 11.

During the ministry’s COVID-19 update yesterday, Deyalsingh said the Government already ordered vaccines for this age group, which await World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Use Listing or Emergency Use Approval.

“What I can tell you and tell the country is that we have not been standing still on this issue. We have already placed orders for the paediatric version, and as soon as it is EUL and EUA approved by WHO and the supplies are available, we will bring it in for that cohort of persons, 5-11,” Deyalsingh said.

He said some parents want their children vaccinated, but the Ministry cannot administer the current stock to this age group. Both Sinopharm and Pfizer-BioNTech have submitted new vaccines to the WHO to use in children ages five-11.

While the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in stock has WHO approval for ages 12 and over, it is not for younger children. Deyalsingh explained that using the current vaccines for this age group was not legally and clinically permissible as Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for ages five to 11 of Pfizer is one-third the strength of the adult vaccine. Another difference was the buffer used to stabilise the ingredients. Thirdly, the packaging differs.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said while the ministry observed paediatric cases occurring during the pandemic, eight children entered hospitals in the last few days. It includes one child critically ill in the Intensive Care Unit. Seven of the children are under age 12 and do not qualify for vaccination currently. Therefore, he urged parents to vaccinate their older children as studies show that the Omicron COVID-19 Variant of Concern spreads quickly and affects children globally.

While the Delta represents 75 per cent of the Variants of Concern detected up to last Friday, 25 per cent of the cases sequenced were Omicron.

“We note it as a concern on the back of Omicron, and looking on at what is happening in the rest of the world, the paediatric cases filling up the hospitals in the US, for example, and in some other territories around the world. We are seeing that Omicron, anytime now, will become increasing in prevalence,” Parasram said.

He expects Omicron to become the dominant strain in a week or two based on global trends.

In preparing for this spread, Deyalsingh said the ministry recently increased capacity for children, using a building in South Trinidad owned by Heritage Petroleum. He said the company refurbished the building that could house eight children. He said there are already dedicated facilities for children in Arima and the ministry continues to look at ways to increase capacity. However, he said the solution was not to increase capacity but to manage COVID-19 through vaccinations.

“A very important point is that you need to be boosted, and to date, only 81,633 people have come out to be boosted. A boosted parent, a boosted grandparent, offers protection to a little child who cannot be vaccinated, five-11. That is the principle of herd immunity. Protect everyone. The herd is to be protected so that person in the herd who cannot be vaccinated is protected.”