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A year ago this month, when the country had yet to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations, the polling firm Ipsos found just 54 per cent of adult Canadians planned to take the first available dose. How things changed.

As of last Thursday, 86 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and over were fully vaccinated, and 90 per cent had their first dose. Canada’s vaccination campaign has been a success.

The credit goes mostly to Canadians, who overcame any early skepticism they felt and rolled up their sleeves. But it also goes to the unmistakable effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines themselves. They have proven that they are the surest way of protecting oneself from infection, hospitalization and death.

Health Canada data show that, since the start of the vaccination campaign on Dec. 14, 2020, 82 per cent of reported cases, 82 per cent of hospitalizations and 77 per cent of deaths occurred in unvaccinated people.

That ratio has more or less maintained itself as vaccines, combined with physical distancing and mask mandates, have lowered the overall number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

In Ontario over the past 90 days, the unvaccinated were being infected at between four and six times the rate of the fully vaccinated, according to provincial data. As of last Thursday, they were also three times as likely to wind up in an intensive care unit.

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At the same time, the odds of being hit by dangerous side effects from the vaccines have been vanishingly small. Out of almost 60 million doses of the various vaccines delivered to date in Canada, only 0.01 per cent resulted in a serious adverse effect, according to federal government data.

Given, then, how clear it is that the benefits far outweigh the risks, it is disconcerting that so many parents are skeptical about inoculating children aged 5 to 11, the cohort that finally joined Canada’s vaccine-eligible ranks on Friday.

A survey done by the Angus Reid Institute in October found that just 51 per cent of parents said they would vaccinate their child aged 5 to 11 as soon as the first jab was available. Worse, an astonishing 23 per cent said they would never do it.

Let’s hope this is a reflection of the same initial reticence that many Canadians felt when vaccinations were first rolled out, and which they quickly overcame. And let’s also acknowledge that parents’ protective instincts will naturally make them err on the side of caution.

But the most important thing to understand is that, in more rational times, the news that a highly effective, demonstrably safe, government-approved vaccine was available for children during a deadly pandemic would be greeted with joy and relief.

Sadly, falsehoods and fear-mongering about side effects that don’t exist have done their intended job and made what should have been a simple decision for parents into a more complicated one.

Some parents may be weighing pernicious misinformation about non-existent side effects against the fact that children are way less likely to contract COVID-19, or to fall seriously ill if they do, compared with older people, and are consequently deciding against inoculating their children.

Federal data do indeed show that just 2.1 per cent of people hospitalized with the disease have been 19 or under, and only 19 people out of the 29,241 who had died as of Nov. 19 were in that same age group.

But deciding against vaccination would ignore the fact that the Public Health Agency of Canada says children under 12 now represent 20 per cent of new daily cases – even though they make up only 12 per cent of the population. The novel coronavirus and its variants will target whatever unprotected host is available to it.

It is also important to remember that children who get the disease do indeed die from it, even if numbers are small, and that some suffer long-term consequences.

To date, vaccines in Canada have safely protected millions of people – including children aged 12 to 17 – and helped bring the end of the pandemic within sight.

Incorrectly weighing these benefits against imaginary risks based on misinformation could put a child in harm’s way. Everything must be done in this final push against COVID-19 to make sure that, as vaccines start to roll out for children under 12, the facts come with them.

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