SINGAPORE - Around 27,000 children aged five to 11 have contracted Covid-19 since December last year, when the first locally transmitted Omicron case was reported in Singapore, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
But there is a silver lining: The majority are well enough to be discharged within three days.
Although MOH did not give a breakdown of numbers, it is believed that the majority of these infections were caused by the Omicron variant, which is now the dominant strain of the virus here.
Both public hospitals here capable of providing specialised care for children said Covid-19 admissions have surged in recent weeks as a result.
At KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), the number of young patients admitted for Covid-19 has doubled since the Omicron variant hit, said Dr Kam Kai-Qian, a specialist in paediatric infectious diseases.
A similar trend has been seen at National University Hospital, said Dr Olivia Leow, an associate consultant from its Khoo Teck Puat-National University Children's Medical Institute, although she did not give specific numbers.
Both hospitals said most children who are hospitalised for Covid-19 are not vaccinated, often because they are too young to get the jab.
Despite MOH calling on parents to stay away from emergency departments unless their children need urgent care, these facilities remain very busy, both doctors said.
Dr Leow added: "Understandably, there is a lot of anxiety around Covid-19. But I think it's comparable to when your child had a cough, cold or runny nose before the pandemic - you don't bring him or her to the emergency department at the first sign of a sniffle or fever."
In its daily Covid-19 update on Sunday, MOH said 57 children under 12 were currently hospitalised with Covid-19. One required oxygen but none were in intensive care.
There were 14,064 new local cases, with 1,553 people in hospital. A total of 214 needed supplemental oxygen and 46 required intensive care.
The ministry added that nearly 222,000 children aged five to 11 have had at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, while another 14,000 have registered to get the jab. There are more than 300,000 children in this age group.
Both doctors acknowledged that some parents may still have concerns about vaccination. But they stressed that scientific data shows inoculation helps reduce a child's chances of getting infected, as well as the risk of developing symptoms that could require hospitalisation if he or she contracts the virus.
The Health Sciences Authority said in a safety update last week that Singapore has seen 10 cases of children aged five to 11 with serious side effects after vaccination, out of a total of 238,253 doses administered to this age group as at Jan 31.
Vaccination can also help protect others who come into contact with children on a regular basis, Dr Kam said.
"Children who go to childcare can bring back the infection," she added. "We have seen many cases in KKH where a younger sibling was admitted because he was infected by someone in the household."
Dr Leow said Covid-19 cannot be compared to other childhood diseases which have vaccines but where there is less urgency for parents to consider whether the jabs are needed, because the risk of contracting the coronavirus is currently much higher on a day-to-day basis.
"While it is still ultimately up to the parents to decide, I think they need to bear in mind that withholding the vaccination is also subjecting the child to the risk of developing severe Covid-19 or its complications," she added.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.