Of course adolescents and children should be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. We cannot end the global pandemic and achieve much-vaunted herd immunity without getting protective shots into the 25 per cent of the population that’s under the age of 19.
The only real discussion we need to have is around when and how to make it happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It’s perplexing that people are even asking if their children should be vaccinated.
Why do we put children in car seats and bicycle helmets? Why do we hide and lock away potentially dangerous products in our homes like alcohol and furniture polish?
Same reason: To prevent harm, even if the risks are low.
No one says: “Way more adults die of alcohol poisoning than children, so we might as well leave open liquor bottles around the house.”
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We vaccinate children against a bevy of other infectious illnesses to keep them from getting sick, and from spreading pathogens to others. Doing so for a pandemic illness – one that is still widely circulating – is even more urgent. We cannot be cavalier about COVID-19.
Yet vaccine hesitancy is disturbingly high.
One recent study published in CMAJ Open found that 40 per cent of mothers said they were unsure they would get their children, aged 9 to 12, vaccinated against COVID-19. (That included the 8.6 per cent who said they would definitely not vaccinate them.)
Why the hesitation?
Time and time again, we hear poor arguments, including “not many kids get hospitalized or die,” or “older adults are way more at risk, so it’s not necessary.”
Yes, it’s true, COVID-19 has had a much greater impact on adults, especially older adults. The vast majority of deaths are in people over 70; youth under 19 account for fewer than 1 per cent of deaths. Similarly, almost half of hospitalizations are in the over-70 set; for young people, that’s less than 2 per cent.
Still, almost 20 per cent of COVID-19 cases are in children and youth – almost 270,000 out of 1.4 million infections recorded to date. That’s almost proportional to their share of the population.
Young people have been spared, relatively speaking, from the ravages of COVID-19. That’s a great thing. But they aren’t magically immune from illness. Death rates are low because young people have robust immune systems. But one in four young people who do get sick with COVID-19 develop lasting symptoms. There are also a small number of young people for whom COVID-19 could cause a rare condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
Vaccination can reduce the number of young people with COVID-19, long COVID and MIS-C. And if you can get a low risk even lower, why wouldn’t you?
Getting them vaccinated can also protect others.
While most young people who contract the coronavirus don’t get that sick, they can still be vectors – that is, they spread the coronavirus to others, even when they are symptom-free.
Vaccinating young people is a good way to protect their grandparents, parents and caregivers, who are at much greater risk of harm. And as long as coronavirus circulates, there is a greater risk of mutations and new variants that can be more infectious and lethal.
There are, of course, concerns about effectiveness and safety of vaccines – overblown concerns we don’t seem to have about other drugs.
The COVID-19 vaccines we have – for Canadians, the ones manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca – have proven to be remarkably effective and safe in adults and adolescents to this point.
There is the issue of blood clots, mostly in younger women – a problem resolved by limiting who gets the vaccine. There are also concerns about the heart conditions myocarditis and pericarditis, mostly among young men, but it’s unclear if there is an actual cause and effect.
People have a lot of health issues and they can occur, coincidentally, after vaccination.
Currently, vaccines are available in Canada for those aged 12 and up. A number of studies are also being conducted on those under the age of 12, as young as six months.
There is no biological reason to believe effectiveness and safety will be different in children than it is in adolescents and adults. The only tweaking required is the proper dosage, which will be lower in children because they are smaller.
Vaccination is the path back to normalcy, and the good news is that the number of shots in the arms of Canadians is soaring – 32 million, and counting. As public-health restrictions begin to lift, then, we cannot in good conscience leave children and youth out of the revival.
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