‘I struggle to breathe’: 10-year-old asthma sufferer ready for Covid-19 vaccine

Liam Dulver knows the terrifying feeling of losing the most basic of abilities – to breathe.

The 10-year-old asthma sufferer is highly motivated to avoid getting Covid-19 – a disease that makes him six times more susceptible to serious harm and hospitalisation.

On Monday, along with his 7-year-old sister, he’ll be rolling up his sleeve for the paediatric Covid-19 vaccine.

“I don’t really want to get it, but I know it’s best for my health.”

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As a severe asthma sufferer from his first months, Liam – who loves all sports and just took out his primary school’s leadership award last year – lives in fear of the common cold, which could leave him gasping to breathe and in intensive care on a respirator.

Every winter except last year, he has spent time in hospital receiving steroids and oxygen, and in many cases, in intensive care, dad Karl Dulver said.

A recent study of 750,000 children in Scotland, published in The Lancet, found children with poorly controlled asthma and those who had been admitted to hospital for asthma in the previous two years were six times more likely to need hospitalisation if infected with Covid-19, than children with no asthma.

About 500,000 children aged between 5 and 11 will be able to get the paediatric Covid-19 vaccine from Monday.

Dulver said getting Liam and his younger sister vaccinated was a “huge priority” for the family.

Liam, 10, and Karl Dulver from Lower Hutt. Liam, who has severe asthma, is keen to get the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as he can.

Liam, 10, and Karl Dulver from Lower Hutt. Liam, who has severe asthma, is keen to get the Covid-19 vaccine as soon as he can.

“We do worry with Covid spreading around the country and him moving to intermediate this year, that he will become more exposed.”

The looming likelihood of the highly transmissible Omicron strain entering New Zealand was another huge concern.

Despite the sense of urgency to get Liam vaccinated, Dulver said they had not been able to book appointments for Monday as their local GP was not offering the paediatric vaccine until January 25 and bookings were not available until the programme start date.

The childhood vaccination programme is a “a big step forward” for reducing Covid-19 transmission and severe symptoms from infections, Te Pūnaha Matatini principal investigator Dr Dion O’Neale said.

“Aotearoa has a relatively young population – 90 per cent of the 12-plus population being vaccinated translates into only 75 per cent of the total population.”

Of those affected by the Delta outbreak in New Zealand, 20 per cent, or 2276, were aged 9 and under, including babies and a 6-week-old, University of Otago, Wellington immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu said.

University of Otago, Wellington immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu says Covid-19 affects children as well as adults.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

University of Otago, Wellington immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu says Covid-19 affects children as well as adults.

“Omicron’s higher transmissibility could still lead to increased case numbers in our communities in Aotearoa New Zealand, and poses risk for the most vulnerable.”

Some parents of vulnerable children remained unsure about getting them vaccinated, Asthma New Zealand chief executive Katheren Leitner said.

Clinical trials found the Pfizer paediatric vaccine was 90.7 per cent effective against symptomatic Covid-19 disease.

But Asthma New Zealand nurses were taking many calls from parents who had been misinformed about the vaccine and did not want their child vaccinated, Leitner said.

“It’s important we don’t underestimate why parents are concerned. The thing for us though is … the risk of not getting vaccinated is far greater than any of the risks the parents have communicated to us.”

She asked parents to ensure they were getting their information from “reputable sources including the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation”.

“Step away from social media.”

Parents are being encouraged by health boards to book appointments for the childhood vaccine because not all clinics are offering it, and some were starting the programme later, however the booking system would not open until Monday.

Vaccine clinics were trying to prepare for all scenarios, but many were unsure how the children’s programme would affect demand.

The Maui Clinic at South City Mall in Christchurch was vaccinating about 180 people a day, but manager Elly Grant had no idea how many children they would see next week.

“Because it’s so individual you don’t know how many staff to roster on”

Elly said some parents may want to get their child vaccinated at the clinic due to its location in a mall, so they could offer a bribe of a visit to the food court or The Warehouse afterwards.

Most of the clinic’s 25 casual vaccinators had completed a 90-minute to two-hour online training programme for the childhood vaccine, which was a requirement of their continued employment, Grant said.

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