COVID-19 and Children Under Age of 12

Published Date: 02 August 2021 06:00 PM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Ms He Ting Ru, Sengkang GRC

Question

To ask the Minister for Education (a) given the shift back to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), what is the assessed risk level for children under the age of 12 who are unable to be vaccinated; and (b) what are the considerations when deciding the further steps that need to be taken, particularly in indoor educational settings, to ensure the safety of these children and their families, whether now or in the future when moving into COVID-19 as an endemic disease.

Response

1. Unvaccinated persons, generally, are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection compared to vaccinated persons of the same age groups. For children, international experience and data on COVID-19 infections have thus far shown that the disease outcome is much less severe as compared to older adults and the elderly. In Singapore, we have so far observed mild disease in local cases aged under 12 years, even with the Delta variant. We are also fortunate that thus far, for our children under 12 years old who have been infected, none of them required oxygen supplementation or were in the intensive care unit.

2. To keep our children safe in the school environment, we implement stringent safe management and surveillance measures, and have adjusted the conduct of school activities where necessary. All staff in schools and preschools are required to wear masks. Students in school are also required to wear masks, while in preschools, either masks or face shields are strongly encouraged for children above the age of 2. For mask-off activities in schools, extra safe management measures are taken. For example, physical education classes are conducted outdoors or in well-ventilated venues, in small groups based on national guidelines. Mask-off activities are currently suspended in preschools. Preschools and schools also emphasise good personal hygiene and social responsibility. Staff in preschools and schools are also prioritised for vaccination. These measures collectively mitigate the risks of infection in our students.

3. The Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination (EC19V) is monitoring ongoing vaccination trials for children under the age of 12. The EC19V will assess if it is suitable to administer these vaccines to children under the age of 12 and make recommendations to MOH at the appropriate time.

4. Ultimately, managing COVID-19, whether nationally or in our school settings, is about managing risks and balancing trade-offs. Over time, we have developed a better understanding of the virus, and how to live with it in our daily lives. As we move towards a new normal of COVID-19 as an endemic disease, we are making a conscious move to adopt an appropriate risk management strategy and collectively determine what level of risk is acceptable to us as a society.

5. The past few months have given us confidence that we can strike a better balance by taking a more targeted approach to ringfence cases and their close contacts. For example, by only having affected classes, levels or schools on Home-Based Learning (HBL), rather than resorting to Full HBL for everyone on a nation-wide scale. This allows us to isolate affected students and staff, and not close all primary schools, where most students are not yet eligible for vaccination. The alternative of Full HBL on a prolonged basis comes at a cost to the learning and social-emotional development of our young. It takes a toll on mental wellness, places additional stresses on educators, parents and students, especially when not all students have home environments that are conducive for HBL. The negative impact also falls disproportionately on the lower income families.

6. We will continue to fine-tune how we manage school cases and ensure a sustainable approach as we transit towards living with COVID-19 as an endemic disease. Taking reference from the national posture and working closely with parents, we will continue the hard work to keep our schools and students safe.

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