Interior Health is holding another COVID-19 vaccine clinic for children aged 5 to 11 in Ashcroft, on Monday, Dec. 13 at the Ashcroft Hospital and Community Health Centre (not the medical clinic). The clinic is by appointment only (no drop-ins).
In order to make an appointment, children must be registered in the provincial vaccination system. Once the child is registered, the parent or caregiver will receive a notification allowing them to book an appointment. To register, go online at https://www.getvaccinated.gov.bc.ca (24/7) or call 1-833-838-2323 (7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily).
Dr. Trent Smith, a pediatrician with Interior Health, says he hasn’t seen anything that has divided people as much as the issue of COVID vaccines for children. “People are either ‘Yes, they’re already signed up’ on one end, and at the other end parents have concerns and questions. There are lots of people on both ends of that spectrum.”
Smith says that while the concerns vary, perhaps the biggest one is fear of the unknown.
“Parents have expressed a fear of potential long-term effects. People look at their children and have concerns about what might come up down the road, and I’m working hard to help people understand that there is no evidence of long-term effects.
“There is zero evidence — absolutely none — that there are long-term effects. We can draw from the worldwide experience over 100 years about long-term effects effects from vaccines, and there is no evidence of that.”
Smith adds, however, that there is already evidence that COVID-19 does seem to cause long-term effects in some people: what is being called “long haul” COVID, which leaves people with a variety of symptoms — including fatigue, shortness of breath, memory problems, and muscle and joint pain — even after they have seemingly recovered from the virus.
“That doesn’t happen with vaccines. COVID vaccines have not been around for a long time, but there is a lot of vaccine science saying that vaccines don’t cause long-term problems.”
One concern many parents have raised is the potential effect of the COVID vaccine on fertility.
“There’s no biological reason or way that fertility would be affected,” says Smith. “We now have a worldwide experience of COVID vaccines, with 8.1 billion doses administered. If there were results — if there were changes in fertility — we would have seen them.”
The COVID-19 vaccine administered to children is exactly the same one given to adults; it is simply a smaller dose (one-third of the dose given to adults), which is similar to many other medications for children.
Asked if there was the same kind of vaccine hesitancy when the polio vaccine was introduced in 1955, Smith says there was not.
“We didn’t have this reaction to the polio vaccine. Polio was a disease that mostly affected children, and killed thousands each year. People were truly, truly frightened of it. We don’t see the effects of polio around us today, so we don’t have that exposure and first-hand knowledge of it, because we’ve cleansed it from society by vaccination.”
Smith says he is glad that COVID is generally a mild disease in children, but notes that there has been a COVID death of an infant in our region.
“If the COVID situation was reversed — if people in nursing homes had mild symptoms, and kids in Kindergarten had a mortality rate of five per cent prior to vaccination — parents would be lining up [to get the vaccine].”
Smith says that while he knows people have substantial concerns, they’re largely unfounded. He suggests that parents or caregivers with concerns speak with their family physician, or contact their local public health unit. He also points to several reputable online sources, such as the BC Centre for Disease Control’s page on “Children and COVID-19 Vaccination” (https://bit.ly/3y2kKNp), which contains information about preparing your children for the vaccine, the vaccine itself, and some common concerns and questions. The Province of BC also has a page about children and the COVID vaccine at https://bit.ly/3dr1jUN.
“These are good sources of information about vaccines and their safety and effects,” he says. However, he cautions that people need to be media savvy and know where their source of information is coming from.
“The spread of information has huge advantages, but it can also spread misinformation. People don’t have that expertise, so we have to address people at an individual level and help them understand where information comes from. There are people who have dedicated their lives to studying this, and we should probably listen to those people.”
Smith acknowledges that there are a small number of health care professionals who have spoken out against the vaccine and made various claims about it.
“Within any group of people you’re going to get outliers, so the question is how does the group manage those outliers? Within the medical profession we have stepped up and said to people who don’t have evidence-based information that they can’t use their credentials to distribute skewed information.”
Smith says that parental fear about vaccines can be divided into two areas. “There is a fear about vaccination administration, so parental support for getting the vaccine is hugely helpful.
“The other issue is specific to the COVID vaccine and some of the myths about it. People need to understand where information comes from and the underlying science behind the vaccine. Speaking with a trusted health professional one-to-one is helpful.”