As public health restrictions to combat COVID-19 infections are lifted across Canada, officials who have lifted those restrictions say they are concerned about delayed uptake of the vaccine by children under 12.
Alarmingly, British Columbia Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry told CBC News that it had been the subject of “a long conversation about this with colleagues across the country as well as some international experts”.
The rolling cancellation of mask mandates, capacity limits, and the phasing out of vaccination proof comes as The latest data from Public Health Canada It shows that the percentage of children ages 5 to 11 who receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine falls below 50 percent in Alberta, with four provinces reporting figures of less than 60 percent.
The Canadian rate for children ages 5 to 11 who have received at least one is 56.5 percent.
By comparison, the percentage of teens and adults who get at least one shot hits the 80s and 90s across the country.
Dr. Laura Sophie, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in British Columbia who also speaks for the Canadian Pediatric Society, says the data is worrisome.
“We’re not seeing as many children between the ages of 5 and 11 getting vaccinated as I would like as a pediatrician,” Souve said.
Digging into the numbers reveals that in some counties, between a third to more than half of children in this age group are still not immune to COVID-19.
Watch | What will improve COVID-19 vaccine rates in children?
“Although we have excellent evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective, I know families read scary things,” Souve said, referring to early stories and now unproven claims about the safety and effectiveness of giving the vaccine to children.
But Sauvé admits that the full explanation for the disparity in vaccination rates is more complex.
Alison Bentley’s nine-year-old son, Quinn, is 45 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds in British Columbia who haven’t gotten a bullet.
Bentley says she has concerns after her 14-year-old daughter was vaccinated and suffered from what she calls a “menstrual disorder.”
consequences American study Published in January, it examined nearly 4,000 women and found little change in menstrual duration — on average one day — but concluded there was no effect on menstrual length. But Bentley says she was unable to get a satisfactory answer from the health care providers she spoke with.
“It was enough to give us a little pause when thinking about vaccinating our youngest child,” Bentley said, adding that in the meantime she and her children had contracted COVID-19 and had only mild symptoms.
Stephanie Garber-Black says her two children haven’t been fully vaccinated, but not because she’s reluctant. The Surrey, BC, mom says it has been difficult getting appointments and keeping them for second shots due to availability and illness in her family.
“I think a lot of families go through what we’re going through, finding it hard to get appointments,” Garber Black said.
Complications of COVID-19 can be serious
Pediatricians say that while the risk of fatal COVID-19 infection in children is much lower than it is in adults, it is not zero. Although relatively rare, complications of COVID-19 such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) in children is serious, and cases are being admitted to hospitals in British Columbia and other provinces.
The goal is to get 90 percent of the vaccine in all age groups, says Devon Grayson, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver.
“I don’t think we need to panic about this just yet,” Grayson said, adding that he doesn’t convey as much urgency to the public when a vaccine isn’t easy to get.
This appears to be proven in Newfoundland and Labrador, where more than 85 percent of children aged 5 to 12 years have taken at least one dose.
Dr. Natalie Bridger, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Eastern Health in St. John’s, credits the strategy when the vaccine was approved — a media campaign focused on the benefits for older family members from immunizing children. Clinics have also been established in schools.
“Everyone who was responsible for that PR campaign really had their finger on the pulse of what drives behavior in our county,” Bridger said.
Availability is not an issue
However, in British Columbia, less than 25 percent of children aged 5 to 12 years were fully immunized with two doses, and only 55 percent got at least one dose.
The county did not emphasize vaccinating children as a way to protect older relatives. Instead, the campaign involves a comic book bear getting a vaccine and donning the robe of a superhero.
A county spokesperson said vaccine availability is not an issue.
Henry suggests the strategy of using single bookings and allowing single visits for potentially shy children and anxious parents is unlikely to change.
While Henry acknowledges the need to raise the rate, she says the survey prior to approving the children’s vaccine showed that over 30 percent of parents intend to hesitate until they get more information.