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16 September 2021
Vaccinated children protect the whole family
During the unprecedented conditions in 2020, people were begging for a vaccine. Lives were lost, and citizens left their homes in more PPE than frontline workers, terrified of this disease that brought the world to a halt. Numbers became names. We attended more virtual funerals than virtual house parties.

Today we are in a situation where vaccine supply is higher than the demand, and those who are at a higher risk are refusing the vaccine.

Megan Shaw, Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Biosciences at the University of the Western Cape, who obtained her PhD in virology, has heard every possible myth about the vaccine.

“The craziest myth is the one about 5G technology causing COVID,” she said. “That is closely followed by the one about vaccines containing a microchip that will track you. I don’t think these people – or groups – who start these myths actually believe them, but rather they’re trouble-makers who get a thrill out of causing chaos.”

Prof Shaw (pictured) has over 20 years of experience in the virology field. Her interest and passion started in high school during a biology class, learning about genetics. While studying for her BSc degree in Microbiology, the world of viruses piqued her interest.

“Viruses are like mini genetic machines that can wreak havoc on the human body… and that was fascinating to me.”

Although all adult South Africans (18 years+) are eligible for the vaccine, only 11,5% of the population has been vaccinated so far. Prof Shaw highlights the level at which herd immunity would be reached based on the current available data.

“Current estimates are set to be higher than 60% due to the more infectious Delta variant, and in fact we may not reach herd immunity i.e., the virus will continue to circulate but vaccinated people will be protected from severe disease, and death. That in itself is a successful outcome. The original idea that we were going to get rid of this virus by vaccinating was probably wishful thinking.

“In several other countries, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for the use in children aged 12 years and up,” said Prof Shaw, who is also a parent. “I know that there are clinical trials being run for younger children, and when those data become available, it should pave the way for vaccinating all age groups.”

Although the number of deaths in children is not as high as the older age groups, Prof Shaw believes that getting children vaccinated is just as important and that no child should die of a vaccine-preventable disease.

“Children with underlying health issues are vulnerable to suffering from a more severe COVID infection that may require hospitalisation, so they should be vaccinated. Unfortunately, many times underlying health issues are only discovered when the child is admitted to hospital with COVID, so it is not always easy to know ahead of time who falls into the vulnerable group.”

The Delta variant, which has driven the third wave of infections, has proven to be much more infectious, and children have played a larger role in the transmission cycle.

“We have seen many more infections in the school setting, and within families, there are cases when children introduce the infection and are responsible for transmitting it to parents and/grandparents. The consequences for the adults, especially if unvaccinated, may be devastating to the family,” said Prof Shaw.

Human health has improved dramatically since the introduction of vaccines. Before widespread vaccination, diseases like polio, smallpox, rubella, and measles crippled and killed millions of people each year. Now that vaccines for children are common, some of these diseases are virtually non-existent.

“There is precedent for vaccinating children against a virus infection that is more severe in adults than in children. Chickenpox is a prime example. It is generally a mild illness in children but can be fatal in adults and anyone with a compromised immune system,” Prof Shaw concluded.