One in every five people who tested positive for COVID-19 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines during the week ended Tuesday, Sept. 21, was under 18 years old.
The figure translates to 93 children, or about 22% of all cases, data released by epidemiologist Tamara Bobb at a Ministry of Health press conference, on Thursday, show.
This comes a mere two weeks before schools in the country are scheduled to reopen for the first time since December 2020.
However, the number of students who have tested positive for COVID-19 could be much higher.
The 15-22 age group accounted for 87 cases, or 19.68% of those recorded in the seven-day period.
Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Roger Duncan told the press conference that health officials were discussing its recommendations to the government on the reopening of school.
“I think one thing we’re certain about almost is that schools wouldn’t open as usual, so that there won’t be the full student body attending schools,” Duncan said.
“But in the final details of what modality that would take and how that would look, we should be able to communicate that early in the upcoming week.”
The situation comes amidst a surge of COVID-19 in cases, which has seen the number of active cases in the country rise to 777 on Sept. 23, up from 37 one month earlier.
Since Sept. 9, a further five persons have died of COVID-19, bringing the total to 17.
Meanwhile, Minister of Health St. Clair “Jimmy” Prince said that following the COVID-19 protocols is important to stemming the surge and ensuring that the nation’s children can safely return to school.
“We have to focus on children at this time, because it is obvious the school year is going to start soon. We have been focusing on the elderly, moreso because of their inherent vulnerability, etc., but we need to talk about the other set of people who may not become ill, but who are suffering anyway, because of the COVID-19,” the health minister said.
The minister said that while there has been an uptick in COVID-19 vaccination, “it is still extremely low at this point.
“It is important to note that all hospitalised cases of COVID-19 are among those unvaccinated with pre-existing conditions,” Prince said.
“I have no qualms in repeating this all the time. It is no coincidence that the majority of persons who have been hospitalised here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who have gotten ill in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and who have died have been unvaccinated. No coincidence at all in that area.”
He noted that the COVID-19 vaccines available in SVG are the Sputnik V, AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
“Of course, Pfizer is available for children 12 years and older. Currently, all vaccines are free of charge. Vaccines are accessible, they are available, and they are safe. Most of all they work. We continue to advise you to take them.”
The minister said that at no time in the history of the nation has the health ministry’s slogan, “Your health – a shared responsibility”, been more relevant than in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“This deadly viral infection has impacted directly health and indirectly all of the social determinants of health, including education, literacy, income, social networks, and the opportunities for healthy child development.”
He said that the tools available to effectively control the spread of COVID-19 are old and proven.
They are rapid identification through testing, containment through isolation and quarantine, the correct use of masks, the sanitisation of hands, physical distancing and vaccination.
“We have all of those tools available to us in St. Vincent and Grenadines and I urge you to fully utilise them if only to ensure that our children can safely return to school,” said Prince, a former minister of education.
“Their future depends on it. And, of course, the economy of St. Vincent and Grenadines also depends on it. The security of St. Vincent and Grenadines depends on it, the social services that we are accustomed to depend on it. So it is important that we deal with this head on.
“While everyone can follow most of these listed measures only persons older than 12 years can be vaccinated with the locally available vaccines. Our younger children cannot.
“They are, therefore, vulnerable to being infected, as seen in COVID-19 surge here in St. Vincent and Grenadines as, indeed, in other countries in the region. The Ministry of Health is committed to protecting our most valuable assets — our children and their future — from COVID-19 and will endeavour to provide all of the tools required to do this.”
He said that the current surge is related to the spread of the highly infectious Delta and Gamma variants.
Prince said this requires that we “join together to stop the spread in order to protect our lives and livelihoods and the future of our children”.