Is there risk of Omicron affecting kids in India as in South Africa?

Risk in children can be mitigated by following public health measures

New Delhi: While there is no data or evidence to show that children are not susceptible to Covid infection, Omicron may not cause a significant impact in children, experts argued on Monday.

According to health officials in South Africa, the new super mutant variant of Covid-19 Omicron has been increasing hospitalisations among children under five years of age. Wassila Jassat, public health specialist at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said: “A new trend in this wave is the increase in hospitalisation of children under five.”

However, allaying fears of a similar scenario in India, microbiologist Dr Saumitra Das from the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG), on Monday said that Omicron may not infect children in other countries, particularly in India, the way it is affecting kids in South Africa, media reports said.

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Dr H.K. Mahajan, anaesthesiologist, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, Vasant Kunj, told IANS: “As far as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is concerned, there is no such hazard to children. As a country, we are prepared to meet the Omicron virus because we have adequate paediatric wards and paediatricians, as well as the necessary infrastructure.”

The NICD also said that children under the age of two account for about 10 per cent of total hospital admissions in Tshwane, the Omicron epicentre in South Africa, the report said.

But Das said that Indians will not be impacted in a similar way.

Mahajan agreed and said: “Our natural immunity will aid us in the fight against the Omicron virus.”

However, Dr Vikram Gagneja, Consultant, Paediatrics and Intensivist, Pediatrics, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, New Delhi, told IANS, that Indian children can be at a similar risk.

“The South African situation can be repeated in India in view of lack of immunisation in this age group and also it is difficult to maintain Covid appropriate behaviour especially among infants and young children,” he said.

While 50 per cent of the adult population in India has received two doses of the vaccine, and 84 per cent has received one dose, children are yet to be inoculated in the country.

On the other hand, several countries including the US, and Israel are well established in their vaccination programmes for children against Covid.

“India should follow suit and start paediatric Covid vaccination at the earliest, as more and more schools and educational institutions are opening up its doors for in-person classes,” Dr Praveena, Assistant Professor, Paediatric ID specialist at Amrita Hospital, Kochi, told IANS.

Praveena stated that although “infections in children have been mild…no data or evidence that shows that children are not susceptible to infection”.

The risk in children can be mitigated by following the public health measures already recommended by health authorities — maintaining hand hygiene, masking and maintaining safe distance and keeping off crowded places.

Gagneja noted that the only way to protect kids is to start immunisation for them. It is also necessary to upgrade our healthcare system to cater to children, in case a situation arises.

“This is also the time when the young population is also vulnerable to other types of respiratory viruses or allergens so distinguishing them from Omicron via appropriate testing is helpful to avoid unnecessary panic situations,” he said.

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