Nearly half of B.C.’s 350,000 five- to 11-year-olds haven’t registered for a COVID-19 vaccine as Omicron continues to surge and school is set to resume Monday.
Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine for children on Nov. 19 last year and it was available to the five-to-11 group later in the month.
Health officials, including in B.C., have encouraged children to get the vaccine to protect themselves and others, particularly as Omicron cases have risen exponentially.
Information released Friday by B.C. health officials showed 140,711 kids had received their first dose. Another nearly 41,300 children had registered with the province’s booking system, about one-third of whom have an appointment.
But that leaves 167,000 children who haven’t yet registered with the vaccine booking system, noted B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“I encourage every single one of those parents to register their children,” Dix says.
Ran Goldman, a professor of pediatrics at the University of B.C.’s school of medicine, said it isn’t an easy task tackling parents’ concerns when it comes to vaccines for their children.
“Parents have important questions about vaccines, and they want to protect their children,” said Goldman, who is also an emergency pediatrician with B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. “One of the best tools they have is to ask the people they trust most — their health-care providers.”
A recent study carried out in Canada, the U.S. and Israel published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, of which Goldman was one of the authors, showed about 60 per cent of parents intended to have the vaccine given to their children.
That matches the B.C. government’s own surveys, showing about 58 per cent of parents intended to register to vaccinate their children right away, while another 18 per cent said they planned to wait and nearly 25 per cent said they weren’t sure they will inoculate their kids for COVID.
The next age group up — 12- to 17-year-olds — have been vaccinated at a rate similar to the rest of the population. As of Jan. 6, 87 per cent of the teenage group has had a first dose and 83 per cent a second dose.
Goldman noted that vaccine hesitancy in children has been going up over the years. More than 70 independent barriers have been associated with vaccine hesitancy, including perceived risks, usefulness and social benefit, as well as access to health-care services, noted Goldman.
Studies have also shown that strategies that focus solely on providing facts on vaccines were ineffective in changing parents’ minds, he said.
“It’s why the personal connection with your health-care provider and the trust is so important,” said Goldman. “It’s a phone call away, Zoom call or seeing your doctor or your nurse or going into a pharmacy — and asking the questions. I think a lot of parents are shy of asking the questions they have … And if they do, they will get the answers.”
But Goldman noted the task of getting the 40 per cent of parents reluctant to roll up their children’s sleeves for a jab isn’t going to be easy.
“I’m worried … We have a lot of work in front of us,” he said.
Although initial studies indicate the Omicron variant may be less severe than the previous Delta variant, its significantly increased transmissibility has health-care providers concerned that it could overwhelm hospital capacity. Hospitalization numbers have been going up in B.C., the latest data shows.
Hospitalizations of those 19-and-younger account for two per cent of the total. In B.C., there have been two deaths of children under-10 and none between 10 and 19 of the total deaths of 2,439, according to statistics from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there is increasing evidence that Omicron does affect younger people.
And while the new variant seems to affect the upper airway more than the lungs, there’s some concern that it can exacerbate asthma more than other variants, Henry said.