As Canada inches closer to approving a COVID-19 vaccine for young children, a Calgary, Alta., pediatrician has heard from parents asking for advice and others sharing their reluctance.
Some are still not sure if they want to give their child the shot.
Health Canada is currently reviewing trial data for a vaccine for children aged five to 11.
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Dr. Cora Constantinescu, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at the Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH), also helps run the vaccine hesitancy clinic in the ACH.
“Parents are asking all the right questions,” said Constantinescu. “They’re asking about the utility of the vaccine. They’re trying to put into the perspective of their own personal lives.”
There are parents, said Constantinescu, who are OK to get the vaccine themselves but are leery of giving the shot to their young children.
“Parents are in a really tough position. There is so much misinformation.”
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The pediatrician said at the beginning of the pandemic, the messaging around COVID and kids was confusing.
“Early on in the pandemic, erroneously, people were saying that children don’t get COVID, or if they do, they all do really well with it and over the last 18 months we now know that’s not the case.
“I see kids in hospital with COVID. I see kids in ICU with COVID and multi-system inflammation.”
Constantinescu said a lot of the focus has been on adults and she stressed “it’s time for us to start prioritizing our children’s health.”
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She noted anti-vaccine messaging around a children’s vaccine has been stronger than adult vaccines, leading parents to be exposed to incorrect information.
“We almost need to undo this sentiment that kids are not victims of this disease.”
Constantinescu, also a member of 19 to Zero, a group of medical professionals and academics working to shift public perceptions around COVID and vaccines, surveyed 750 parents across the country.
She said the majority, more than 66 per cent of parents of children aged five to 11, indicated they are willing to give their child the vaccine as soon as it’s ready.
“Only actually 18 per cent were opposed,” said Constantinescu. “So the majority of parents, most parents want to protect their children with a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Edmonton mothers Susan Wadien and Michele McCrea said their children fall in the five to 11 age category. Both parents are anxious for the vaccine’s arrival.
“I’m really excited to get them vaccinated,” said McCrea. “They’re a vulnerable population.
“I think this is one of the things we’re waiting for and once they are vaccinated, we will open them up to activities other than school.”
Wadien said she chose to keep her children at home this fall after watching the COVID case count climb before the start of the school year.
“I am excited and relieved, to be honest with you. This is the second year we’ve been homeschooling and right now I feel like we’re so close to the finish line.”
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Wadien said she has zero doubts about vaccine safety in young children, especially after watching distribution of vaccines to adults and children over the age of 12.
“I feel like it’s now so well studied. I have no hesitations.”
Mother-of-two Joy Gray she would like to view the data before young children are vaccinated, but overall she trusts the doctors and their medical advice.
“Just like getting the vaccine for myself, I was a little hesitant, but I got it for the greater good.”
Her children are too young to get the vaccine, but Gray said she has been concerned by the growing number of COVID-19 cases being reported in schools and child-care settings.
“I’m actually hesitant to put him in daycare right now,” said Gray of her young son, “because they’re not vaccinated.”
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Constantinescu, a parent of three children under the age of 12, said if approved, she hopes a vaccine for children will be a relief for parents, instead of dealing with the constant threat of COVID-19 on their physical and mental health and “indirectly putting them in a bubble.
“As pediatricians and as parents, we see how much kids have had to pay for this disease.”
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