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Taiwan ramps up child vaccinations after kids die from COVID

There have been untrue claims that more children have died from disease than is being officially admitted

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Child COVID fatalities are understandably worrying Taiwan's parents. (Pexels photo)

Child COVID fatalities are understandably worrying Taiwan's parents. (Pexels photo)

Updated 5/30/2022, 3:38 p.m.: A second batch of 331,200 doses of BNT/Pfizer children's vaccines arrived at Taoyuan International Airport this morning, according to UDN.

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan’s health authorities appear to be responding to concerns about children dying from COVID-19 by ramping up vaccinations for school kids.

Among the 80,835 local COVID-19 infections reported on Saturday (May 28) there were a record 127 deaths, including two boys, ages 5 and 6 years old. This brought the number of fatalities from the disease to 10 in the under-13 age group, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC).

Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who also heads up the CECC, previously said there are about 1.2 million children aged between 6 and 11 in Taiwan. Though the fatality rate for children is not huge, it is concerning.

So much so that in a nation that was previously relatively unscathed by COVID fatalities, the surge of Omicron cases in recent months has led to some febrile commentary online. This has included claims that more children have died from the disease than are being officially admitted.

As a result, celebrity Antony Kuo (郭彥均) and others have been investigated for spreading online rumors claiming that “so many” children have died from COVID. Taiwan’s Information Operations Research Group (IORG) on Saturday determined that Facebook was the medium for a concerted operation to disseminate the fake story.

Arguably, the concern about child deaths stems not just from the understandable fear of parents for their children’s safety and general panic about the record number of fatalities. It may also derive from what is perceived to be a relatively slow approach to immunizing the nation’s kids from COVID, based on the fear of side effects.

Caution appears to have been the watchword to date. However, with the exacerbation in cases and fatalities — among children too — the CECC seems to be moving toward a more proactive approach to the issue of immunizing children.

At junior high schools, second doses of vaccine are being encouraged nationwide, while a CNA roundup on Monday (May 30) listed a series of city initiatives:

  • Taipei's health bureau said that between May 28-31, a child inoculation station will be set up in each of the city's districts to provide the vaccine to kindergartners, while parents can also get their kids vaccinated in 16 COVID pediatric clinics at hospitals.
  • New Taipei aims to complete child inoculation in schools by June 10.
  • Tainan provided 11,029 inoculations two days after starting children's vaccinations on May 25, while medics are also going to schools to provide more vaccinations.
  • In Taichung, 12,000 extra Pfizer BNT vaccines for children have been secured.
  • Kaohsiung opened five community inoculation centers for kids on Sunday (May 29), while a proactive child inoculation program is continuing at schools.
  • Keelung set up a child vaccination center near Keelung Train Station on Sunday.

There are not up to date figures for vaccination rates among young children in Taiwan, though 88.9% of 12 to 17-year-olds have received the first shot and 80.9% have received two, according to a mid-May CNA article. The CECC estimates the number of vaccinated children aged 5 to 11 now stands at 455,000, a vaccination rate of about 30%, per UDN.

Children currently account for about 20% of COVID infections in Taiwan. This figure prompted Huang Li-min (黃立民), superintendent of National Taiwan University Children's Hospital, to tell parents their kids should be inoculated as soon as possible.