|Students walk toward an elementary school in Seoul, Sept. 6. Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
Debate is arising over the government's plan to allow COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged 12 to 17 starting next month.
Some parents say the inoculations will ensure their children's safety and allow them to be more active, while others say they are concerned about potential side effects
The health authorities said, Monday, they plan to start offering vaccinations for children in that age group in the fourth quarter and will announce details within this month after consulting with the education ministry.
They are considering providing the Pfizer vaccine as recommended by the Korea Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, adding the vaccine has been proven safe for use for the age group in various countries including Japan and the United States.
The government's plan to vaccinate children seems to have been affected by the recent uptick in cases among them.
According to the education ministry, Monday, the average daily number of confirmed new cases in elementary, middle and high schools from Sept. 2 to 8 stood at 177.4, up from 125.7 between Aug. 5 and 11, and 117 during the period of July 22 to 26.
The rapid increase has been largely attributed to the fact that 97 percent of schools have resumed in-person classes for the second semester.
In such a situation, parents are wondering whether their children should be vaccinated or not.
Jung Min-young, the mother of a middle school student in southern Seoul's Gangnam District, said she isn't ready to make a decision as updates about vaccine side effects are still emerging.
"As a parent, I want to take time to check more data about side effects for young children. The government cannot force the vaccinations unless they are experimenting on children's bodies," Jung said.
Park Ji-woong, the father of a 13-year-old elementary school student in northeastern Seoul's Nowon District, said he doesn't understand why the government did not survey parents on whether they want their children to receive the vaccines before announcing the plan.
"I wonder who is going to take responsibility if the children suffer side effects from vaccinations. What kind of parents would expose their children to the risk of such unknown adverse effects without sufficient data?" Park said.
As concern appears to be growing, the health authorities said they would not make the inoculations mandatory, saying each parent will be allowed to make their own decision.
"For the age group of 12 to 17, we don't believe the advantages of vaccination are much greater than the disadvantages of not getting vaccinated," a health ministry official said Tuesday.
"Generally a healthy child does not fall into the category of a vulnerable person, so we don't think they need to be vaccinated or that vaccination gives them an advantage," he said. "But we think vaccination is needed for children with underlying diseases because they have a higher risk if infected with the coronavirus."
Experts say it is necessary to collect more information about vaccinations for minors.
"It is more effective to reduce local infections by increasing the inoculation rate for adults rather than discussing vaccination of children," said Chon Eun-mi, a professor of respiratory medicine at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital.
Jung Jae-hoon, a professor of infectious medicine at Gachon University Gil Hospital, also said that discussions about vaccination plans for the age group should be done at some point, but it was necessary to fully review possible side effects during the remaining time before expanding the inoculation program to minors.