B.C. urges parents to register kids age 5-11 for vaccines amid low uptake

As a scientist specializing in biotechnology, it’s perhaps no surprise that Austin Hill believes in the power of vaccines.

The 40-year-old Vancouver resident says he and his wife, also a scientist, have both received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

He also says their kids, age eight and 10, were vaccinated shortly after clinics opened up for them in November 2021.

“It actually went very well for both of them,” said Hill when asked if the children experienced any symptoms after receiving their shot.

“They went to bed a little earlier the first night than maybe they normally would, but there were no adverse events in our household.”

But while the children, whose identities we have agreed not to publish out of respect for their privacy, are part of a growing sample that suggests COVID-19 vaccines are safe for kids and rarely produce adverse health events, provincial data shows nearly half of B.C.’s 350,000 five-to-11-year-olds have not been registered for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Health minister Adrian Dix says roughly 160,000 children within the cohort still need to be registered.

“We want more parents to register their children and more children to get vaccinated,” said Dix in a press conference.

The call comes as many children in that age group return to the classroom under enhanced COVID-19 safety measures, including staggered break times, virtual assemblies and visitor restrictions.

Questions about long-term effects

Health-care professionals, meanwhile, say some parents are concerned about the safety of vaccinations, particularly in the long-term.

“The questions, usually, are ‘is it safe?'” said Surrey family doctor Madhu Jawanda.

“And under that umbrella falls: ‘Is it safe in terms of their future fertility? Does it affect their DNA?'”

Family doctor Madhu Jawanda says it’s natural for parents to have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. She adds that administering vaccines in settings like a family doctor’s office, or even schools, may help persuade some parents to register their child for their first shot. (Christian Amundson)

A growing body of evidence suggests that, indeed, COVID-19 vaccines are safe even for younger recipients.

Data shared earlier this month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that of more than 8.6 million doses administered to children age five to 11, just 100 involved serious symptoms such as chest pain, troponin increase — which signals damage to the heart or a heart attack — or myocarditis, the inflammation of the heart muscle. 

The CDC also reports 4,149 instances of non-serious responses to the vaccination, such as dizziness, syncope or fainting, and headache.

B.C.’s own disease reporting centre says those findings reflect what they are seeing.

“I think [parents] should definitely feel reassured because we’re not seeing anything concerning at all in terms of a side effect profile or adverse events,” said Monika Naus, medical director of B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s Communicable Diseases & Immunization Service.

“I think a lot of people might have been inclined to wait and see how the [vaccine] program goes before they make a decision.”

Top doctor offers assurances

Family doctor Jawanda, meanwhile, says it’s natural for parents to have questions given the abundance of information — and misinformation — on social media.

“The best strategy to get the vaccination rates up is what we used in the beginning with the adults,” she said. “It’s education, talking to people.”

She adds the setting in which vaccines are administered could also persuade some holdouts, suggesting some patients might be more comfortable in a family doctor’s office, or even in schools.

B.C.’s top doctor, however, says there is mixed support for vaccine clinics in schools, especially when class is in session.

“We are absolutely using schools in a number of communities for after-hours, evening and weekend clinics for children,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry. 

“But it really is a targeted approach depending on the community and the needs of the community.”

Henry acknowledged the concerns surrounding vaccines for those age five to 11, but reassured parents, saying they are designed specifically for children.

Vancouver parent Austin Hill says his two kids, ages eight and 10, experienced no side effects after receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“It’s a smaller amount, a third of the dose … and that means we’ve seen much less of some of the side effects that we saw with some of the adult doses. Even the sore arm is much less,” she said.

It’s a message Austin Hill hopes other parents hear loud and clear.

“We can’t know just yet what the long-term effects of any vaccines are when given to children,” he said.

“But in this case specifically, we also don’t know the long-term impact of a COVID infection.”

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