Panama City, Jan 7 (EFE).- Panama on Friday kicked off its campaign to vaccinate young children against Covid-19, a drive that aims to inoculate 522,198 kids between the ages of five and 11 and is prioritizing those with chronic and immunosuppressive conditions and severe disabilities.
“We have to protect children because the virus is coming on strong,” Alberto Marciaga, the father of a 10-year-old girl who received her initial dose of Pfizer vaccine, told Efe.
The Health Ministry, which has in its possession 60,000 doses of the 1.5 million doses for kids under 12 that it ordered from Pfizer, expects to immunize 25,400 children between five and 11 over the next two weeks.
Marciaga’s daughter suffers from polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts develop primarily within a person’s kidneys and cause those organs to enlarge and lose function over time, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
“She was a bit nervous about the vaccine but they administered it to her … I feel more at ease. She says her arm hurts a little bit,” said Marciaga, who has other older children who are already vaccinated.
Vaccines are being offered to children at national and regional public hospitals, as well as at four private health centers in Panama’s capital.
Selmibet Herrera, the mother of an 11-year-old boy with leukemia, said she thought “several times” about whether or not to vaccinate her son against Covid-19 before finally “trusting in God and in the doctors that everything would be fine.”
“I consulted with the hematologist, the pediatrician, and they both recommended that I have him vaccinated, and so I brought him on the first day,” she told Efe.
The head of the National Secretariat of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Eduardo Ortega-Barria, told Efe that it is understandable that parents have doubts due to the wide range of available information, some of it from “sources that are not really scientific, academic or medical.”
But “I can tell you with the certainty that scientific information provides that the vaccine (the Pfizer-BioNTech two-dose series for kids aged five to 11) is safe, immunogenic and effective,” Ortega-Barria, a pediatric infectious disease expert, said.
Authorities are seeking to vaccinate the largest possible number of children prior to the start of the new school year on March 7, which will be fully in-person for the first time since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
The Panamanian Society of Pediatrics said in a statement Thursday that “vaccinating children five years and older can help to keep them in school and allow them to participate safely in sporting activities, games and group work.”
Panama has begun vaccinating young children at a time when that country of 4.28 million inhabitants is experiencing a fourth wave of the pandemic, with thousands of new confirmed cases reported daily.
That is a sharp increase relative to the fewer than 500 new confirmed cases per day a month ago, although the surge has not triggered a rise in deaths or hospitalizations.
Through Thursday, the country had reported a total of 512,402 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic there nearly 22 months ago and 7,449 Covid-19 deaths.
Health authorities are relying on vaccinations and other protective measures such as masks and physical distancing to combat the current Omicron-driven coronavirus wave in Panama, which is now seeing community spread of that variant and expects it to become the dominant strain.
Currently, 81.6 percent of the 12-and-over population has received a two-dose Covid-19 vaccine series and 90.6 percent have received a single dose. A total of 424,564 booster shots, authorized for people 16 and older, also have been administered.
Taking into account Panama’s entire population, 35 percent of the country still needs to be vaccinated, Health Minister Luis Francisco Sucre said. EFE