As early as this week, Health Canada could give the green light to a pediatric formulation of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
That means the 2.7 million Canadian children aged 5 to 11 could start getting their shots before Christmas.
Regulatory approval will set the stage for what is arguably the most important childhood vaccination campaign since polio in the 1950s. When it rolled out, the excitement was palpable, and there was a virtual stampede to vaccine clinics. Today, the political and social environment is fraught, and misinformation is rampant.
A recent Angus Reid poll showed that barely half of parents, 51 per cent, plan to get their elementary-school-aged children vaccinated promptly. Another chunk, 18 per cent, say they will do so eventually, while a shocking 23 per cent say they have no intention of getting their kids vaccinated against COVID-19 at all.
This level of hesitancy in the midst of a pandemic that has dragged on for almost two years is troubling.
The pandemic will never end unless we get the near totality of the population immunized, including young people. And the best path to immunity is vaccination, not illness.
1) It protects them from COVID-19 illness, hospitalization and death.
2) It protects them from long-term effects of infections, such as MIS-C (multisystem inflammatory syndrome) and long COVID.
3) We cannot predict which children will end up having severe illness or long COVID.
4) Doing so allows children to get back to doing things they love and miss.
5) The benefits of vaccinating far outweigh the risks.
6) Vaccinations contribute to herd immunity, community protection and a pathway back to normalcy.
Those are all pretty convincing arguments for embracing vaccination, individually and collectively.
Why wouldn’t we do everything in our power to prevent children from getting sick? And why aren’t we more eager to break chains of transmission in the community, and put the pandemic (and all the irritating public-health measures it has prompted) behind us?
Parents all want the best for their children. So some hesitation and worry is understandable.
But, in the main, parents recognize the overwhelming benefits of vaccines. That’s why childhood vaccination rates hover around 90 per cent in Canada.
So why are the same parents who want to protect their beloved babies against measles, mumps, chicken pox, whooping cough and more – conditions we rarely see any more, thanks to vaccination – so reluctant to protect them against the in-our-face coronavirus?
A large part of the problem is the persistent false narrative that children are not at risk from COVID-19.
It is true that children are less at risk than adults, but that does not mean there is no risk.
In Canada, 2.2 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, 1.4 per cent of intensive-care admissions and 0.1 per cent of deaths have been in the pediatric population.
Two arguments are routinely put forward to downplay these data.
One, that most children affected by COVID-19 have “underlying conditions” such as cancer, asthma and Down syndrome. That’s true. But protecting the most vulnerable should be an argument in favour of vaccination, not against it. Further, at least one-third of hospitalized children were “perfectly healthy” before infection.
Also, almost 5 per cent of children infected with the coronavirus have persistent symptoms that last for months.
One of the most bizarre arguments against vaccination is that “not many children die.” Well, let’s be clear about this: Children should not die. Period.
There have been 17 pediatric COVID-19 deaths in Canada. That’s 17 too many, even if it’s 0.1 per cent of the total. (For the record, one-tenth of 1 per cent of all deaths in Canada occur in children, 359 of 284,082 last year.)
None have died of vaccination, and none will.
The most important point in Ms. Vohra-Miller’s list is No. 5 – that benefits far outweigh risks.
Parents have been fed misinformation and fear-mongering by the shovelful. By every measure, COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly safe.
The single biggest fear out there is needle pain but that’s largely avoidable. As the great Canadian social-media campaign says in its hashtag: #ItDoesntHaveToHurt.
Despite oft-repeated nonsense (usually by charlatans flogging “alternative” treatments), vaccination has no impact on DNA, hormones or fertility. Even real concerns such as myocarditis are minimal risks and, again, far more likely to occur with COVID-19 infection than with vaccination.
Almost 86 per cent of eligible Canadians have been vaccinated against COVID-19 so far.
Parents should expect no less for their children.
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