January 22, 2022

Heal Me Healthy

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Less than half of B.C. kids under 12 had their first shot

5 min read

Some communities, especially in the North and rural areas of the Interior, are way behind the provincial average

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Vaccination rates for kids under 12 are as low as 16 per cent in some B.C. communities, despite efforts by authorities to get as many shots as possible into arms.

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The latest figures available show 44 per cent of the province’s 349,000 5-11 year olds have had a first dose, while another 35,000 have signed up to get a shot.

But the percentage of kids who have received their first dose of the vaccine varies widely — from less than 20 per cent in parts of the North and Interior to over 80 per cent in parts of the southwest coast and Vancouver Island.

Safety and testing concerns are some of the most common issues raised by parents considering vaccinations for their children, according to doctors and other professionals.

“The patients that I’ve talked to and the parents that I’ve talked to have questions about safety and they have questions about how the vaccines get approved,” said Dr. Leigh Hunsinger-Chang, a family physician in Prince George. “Parents want to do the best for their kids. … That’s fundamentally it.”

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Vaccination rates for children in some northern communities are among the lowest in B.C, according to the most recent data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Several regions in the province’s northeast lag in overall vaccinations as well.

In an interview discussing the relatively slow vaccine uptake during last year’s initial rollout, Dr. Jong Kim, Northern Health’s chief medical health officer, noted the logistical issues faced by authorities in the North, where small communities are often separated by vast distances and often have limited health-care facilities.

Several communities in B.C.’s interior also have relatively low vaccination rates for kids under 12, particularly in remote or rural communities outside of city centres like Kamloops and Kelowna.

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B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix encouraged parents to have their children vaccinated.

“If you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated. Join the fight,” he said Friday.

Chantal Cattermole, a lawyer and partner at Clark Wilson who works with divorced couples in co-parenting relationships, said that most of the concerns she sees raised by parents are “grounded in a fear of the unknown and safety of the children,” noting that parents were concerned about the vaccine’s long and short-term effects on their kids as well as if there has been enough testing.

“It seems the fear is significantly heightened the younger the child is,” Cattermole said.

In the Lower Mainland, vaccination rates lagged in a handful of north Surrey neighbourhoods that authorities struggled to reach last year, during the initial vaccine rollout.

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In an effort to increase vaccinations, Fraser Health has increased the number of vaccine clinics in the region to 16.

“We acknowledge the concerns many parents are feeling right now. And while children are at a lower risk of severe disease from COVID-19, the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to be effective in protecting children from severe illness, hospitalization or having long-term impacts,” a Fraser Health official said an emailed response to questions.

The vaccine for children under 12 is essentially the same vaccine used for teenagers and adults, but with a smaller dose. This is because healthy children have a strong immune system compared to youth and adults, according to Health Canada .

Hunsinger-Chang said the rapidly changing information has been difficult for parents, who are looking to do the best they can for their kids with the information they have.

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“There’s so much information and things change so fast,” she said.

“Where are you at with getting vaccinated? Where are you at with your kids getting vaccinated?” she said she tells her patients. “I’m here if you’ve got questions.”

Hunsinger-Chang said sometimes patients will initially say they have no questions about vaccinating their kids. “Then a week or two later I’ll get a phone call and they want to talk about it.”

She said she encourages people to view vaccinations as an opportunity, rather than something to fear.

“We all have an opportunity to help bring an end to the pandemic,” she said, “and this is one of the ways to do it.”

“This is actually something where you can feel like you’re doing something to bring an end to the pandemic.”

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