By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
DEPUTY Chief Medical Officer Dr Delon Brennen says health officials have noted higher coronavirus infection rates among children, a grouping that does not have the same broad vaccine coverage as other subsets of society.
Dr Brennen said officials noticed the increase among children as many adults were infected by what is believed to be the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Meanwhile Dr Philip Swann, Acting Chief Medical Officer, said vaccine supplies remained high in the country, but officials are still unable to source paediatric doses.
Officials did not provide specific numbers regarding child COVID-19 infections.
Dr Swann also said officials were still awaiting confirmation from tests sent abroad to determine if the Omicron variant is in the country.
“I think there is a caveat to why the consideration is to children being at higher risk when it comes to the Omicron variant and our current timing,” Dr Brennen said on Tuesday night during a virtual town hall meeting. He was asked about the risk Omicron presented to children.
Currently only children 12 to 17-years-old can get vaccinated in The Bahamas.
“If we remember correctly, just in the timing of our ability to prevent infection, one of the big things that we have seen is that when we started rolling out our vaccination campaigns, we really started with an older population to do so.
“We were seeing higher numbers of infections in general in older populations so it was a great strategy to do because vaccines have been approved first in older populations. So, the paediatric population really has not had access to the vaccinations for a very long period of time, even globally, and then when you talk about subsets of paediatric populations, remember children who are five to 11 years of age have really just had access in some countries to the vaccine.
“Even here in The Bahamas we still don’t have access to those vaccines that are able to protect that age group of children and nowhere in the world do the children who are four years and younger have access to the vaccines.
“So, unfortunately when you consider proportions of adults to children who are seeing infections with the Omicron variant we are seeing higher proportions or higher percentages of children being affected and having to be hospitalised and the like, and a lot of that is going to be due to the fact that they have not been afforded the same level of protection from vaccines when you look at the timing of when vaccines have been made available to that populous.”
He continued: “So, that is a big concern for us and it’s one of the reasons the Ministry of Health continues to push as much as possible to making sure that we try to get vaccines that are safe to use in those populations and making them available to the Bahamian public and the children of our society.”
For this reason, Dr Brennen said it was the focus of health officials to ensure there were rules and regulations in place to protect children, especially with regard to the opening of schools.
“We’ve had strong opinions and strong decisions that have been made throughout the policy level decision making that has been made in county to make sure that we put rules and regulations in place in order to make sure that we protect that level of the populous as well and so we get a lot of feedback about why children have not necessarily been able to get into schools and the like.
“The reasoning is we are seeing those higher levels of infections in children and we need to make sure that we put them into those types of spaces in a manner that allows them to do so safely so that we don’t increase their risk and then end up with higher levels of disease in that population and then end up with more needing to be hospitalised as well.
“So, we need to make sure that we put those things in place and that we protect that populous as much as possible but we want to make sure that we do so safely so that’s why we’re seeing the ever-changing numbers of infections, but also the policy making decisions to go along with it as well.”
Dr Brennen also noted that even with rules, the risk of children contracting COVID-19 at school could not be completely eliminated.
“We know that putting them into a space, especially indoor spaces, is going to increase their risk so we have to do so safely and so a part of that strategy has to include making sure that we don’t have overcrowding in classroom spaces, we take advantage of outdoor educational spaces as much as possible.
“We’ve been blessed with a climate that allows us to do more things outdoors without having to be inside the classrooms so we need to take as much advantage of that as we can.
“We want to make sure that if you have to be indoors that you have good ventilation that will include keeping doors and windows open when possible and then making sure there is as much fresh air in as possible. If there is an air-condition or HVAC system, we need to make sure that all of that is incorporated but you know you have strategies where some children are able to come in and others are not. Where you have smaller numbers of children within individual classrooms at a time.
“All of those are strategies that will help to make it safer, but there is no way to make it absolutely safe. There is always going to be some level of risk that is taken on by allowing children to come into a school space,” Dr Brennen said.