Monday, November 15, 2021

To vaccinate kids or not to vaccinate kids

As the child vaccine for COVID-19 is expected to be approved in Canada in the next week or two, health authorities are ramping up and preparing for another major vaccination push, this time for kids. But demand for the vaccine for 5-11 year olds may not be as brisk as you might expect.

Canada's vaccination effort among adults (well, over-12s) has been pretty good, I have to say, much better than I initially expected, with over 85% of the eligible (over-12) population fully vaccinated, and nearly 90% having had at least one dose according to CTV's Vaccination Tracker (this translates to about 75% of the entire population fully vaccinated and 78% with at least one dose), and booster doses already starting among the more vulnerable population.

But may parents who had no qualms about vaccinating themselves are less certain about having their small kids vaccinated. According to one major recent survey by Angus Reid, only 51% plan to get their kids aged 5-11 vaccinated as soon as a pediatric dose become available, with another 18% saying they will wait and see how things go. 23% say they will never get their kids vaccinated (and 9% just don't know). Well, if all 69% do as they say and vaccinate their children (eventually) that's actually not that bad, and will raise Canada's overall vaccination to a level that might just be enough for herd immunity (if that is still a concept that is current).

And, to be sure, it is a slightly different decision. Children are at a lower risk of serious outcomes than adults, and there is perhaps some small risk of more serious (but certainly not life-threatening) reactions like myocarditis. Many children are afraid of needles (around 60%), but there are strategies to overcome this anxiety and reticence, and some may need some coaxing, coaching, even bribing. For a few (maybe 4%) the prospect of an injection can even bring on panic attacks, fainting spells and insomnia. 

However, set against all this, some kids do in fact suffer some pretty serious impacts from COVID-19 (including, yes, hospitalization, intensive care, and even deaths), and long COVID is also an ever-present possibility (something like 5% of kids infected with COVID have long-tern symptoms that last for months). Oh, and there's also the issue of doing the right thing for the rest of the community, and actively trying to reduce community transmission so that we can actually get back to "normal", whatever that might now be. If it's good enough for the kids of every healthcare professional I have seen interviewed on the subject, then it should be good enough for everyone else's kids. The bottom line is that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks, for adults and kids alike.

Just please don't give me stuff like "the vaccines were developed too quickly, and not tested properly", "it's a government conspiracy", etc. We are (or should be) long past that stage. And please let's not forget that vaccinations are not the be-all-and-end-all of the fight against the virus - we will still need masking indoors, reduced crowd sizes, and physical distancing where at all possible.

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