B.C. children with complex needs should be prioritized for vaccine, parents say

The head of a group of B.C. parents who have children with complex needs says the province should follow Alberta’s lead and prioritize medically vulnerable youth for COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Brenda Lenahan, 46, a single mother of two children who lives in Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley, says parents like her have lived in fear of their children contracting the illness. 

“There’s a huge weight on our shoulders every time we go out the door, every time we have the need to interact with anyone else or or possibly welcome someone into our house for some therapy or that kind of thing,” said Lenaham, who helps run the Facebook group B.C. Parents of Complex Kids.

“Our kids are really vulnerable and covid, for many of them, they certainly wouldn’t survive it.”

Health Canada review

Last week Alberta said it would begin vaccinating children born between 2006 and 2009 with underlying health conditions.

Children aged 12 to 15 in Alberta who are at high risk of severe outcomes of COVID-19 can now receive the Pfizer vaccine, even though Health Canada has not authorized the vaccine for the age group.

Health Canada is currently reviewing a submission from Pfizer to extend the use of the vaccine in children ages 12 and older. Currently it says that the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in people younger than 16 years of age has “not yet been established.”

Currently in B.C., only people 18 and older are eligible to get any of the vaccines available. 

Tough decisions

Lenaham’s six-year-old son has a rare genetic disorder similar to a cerebral palsy diagnosis.

For the past year, she has kept him at home because of her concerns about sending him to school with hundreds of other children. 

Brenda Lenahan says she decided to move her family to a small municipality on the West Coast of Vancouver Island to keep her son safe. (Submitted by Brenda Lenahan)

“I didn’t think that keeping my son home from school for another year was going to be the best thing for him,” Lenaham said. 

Instead, she’ll be moving her family to a small municipality on the west coast of Vancouver Island where there are fewer people and school-age children. Lenaham hopes that will keep him safer.

“Those are the kind of decisions that families like mine are making to navigate this,” she said. 

‘Everyone wants to be beyond this pandemic’

Lenaham says she wants B.C. to prioritize children with complex needs as part of its vaccination program, as well as their parents. 

Not all parents in the Facebook group she helps manage would allow their children to get the vaccine, Lenaham says, depending on their medical condition and any risk the vaccine itself could pose for them.

But she says prioritizing them would give parents a choice they could evaluate with their child’s medical team. 

Dr. Ran Goldman, a B.C. pediatrician, says most parents want to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. 

“Everyone wants to be beyond this pandemic, and in order to eradicate this virus, we must have the majority of the population vaccinated,” Goldman said.

Reaching herd immunity

Early in the pandemic Goldman and his colleagues interviewed 1,500 families in emergency departments in six different countries. Goldman says 65 per cent of them said they would vaccinate their children. 

Now that vaccination efforts are further along, Goldman thinks that percentage would likely be much higher. 

B.C. pediatrician Dr. Ran Goldman agrees that children with complex needs should be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Researchers say 75 to 80 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity. Given that children make up to 25 per cent of the population, Goldman says, and some adults can’t or will refuse to get it, it makes sense to vaccinate children as well.  

He agrees that children with complex needs should be prioritized. 

“If their doctor thinks that they need to be vaccinated and [is] able to get a vaccine, they should be in front of the line,” Goldman said. 

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