- Says a quarter of infected infants will show no symptoms
- 12 infants have so far died from COVID complications
- President Masisi says children’s vaccines have been ordered
A private medical expert, Dr Lesedi Falama, has appealed to the government to ensure that infants are vaccinated in order to reduce their chances of succumbing to COVID-19.
This is because babies under one year of age are more at risk of infection with COVID-19 and severe illness than older children.
Dr Falama’s appeal comes after the government revealed to The Botswana Gazette that 12 babies under the age of 12 months have succumbed to COVID-19 since last year.
According to the Chief Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Christopher Nyanga, a total of 1 764 infants were infected with COVID-19. Of this number, 12 have died.
Nyanga said the District Health Management Teams (DHMT) in Greater Gaborone have had the highest number of both infections and deaths countrywide, with 480 infections and 3 deaths since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Botswana early last year.
Falama says vaccinating infants and babies would reduce their mortality. She noted that infants have a good innate immune system while adults have an over reactive immune system.
“This is why the virus affects adults more than infants but this does not rule out the possibly of infants getting the virus,” she said in a telephone interview. “Babies can get infected but they are building an immune system, so it does not rule out the fact that a child can get infected.”
She explained that while infants can also get infected with COVID-19, most show merely mild symptoms like a cough, fever, breathing difficulties and/or gastrointestinal problems while about a quarter of them will show no symptoms at all. “It is very rare for some children to become severely ill and to need hospitalization or intensive care treatment,” Dr Falama said.
She warned that babies under the age of one year are more at risk of severe illness than older children. “This is because infants’ immune systems are not fully developed and their airways are smaller,” Dr Falama said.
At MoH, Nyanga says a series of preventative measures are being intensified to reduce transmission of COVID-19 infection from mothers to babies. “Public education on the COVID-19 preventative measures is being intensified through media platforms and community involvement, among others,” Nyanga said.
This is because it has been realised that infants generally acquire COVID-19 from their caretakers, hence interventions that empower caretakers with education about COVID-19 have been devised, he added.
“It is believed that this will help reduce the COVID-19 burden among infants,” said Nyanga. “The emphasis of public education for caretakers is on hand hygiene, mask wearing, social distancing, use of sanitizers, maintaining a clean home environment and reduction of movement reduction.”
In his last national address recently, President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the country had already ordered children’s vaccines. “Botswana is simultaneously negotiating for additional doses from several companies,” the President said. “The negotiations include vaccines for children under 12 years old. Our plan is to pre purchase doses for children even before the clinical trials are completed.”