Adding COVID-19 To 'Designated Diseases' Could Boost Vaccine Uptake Among Children

Author: Alison Braley-Rattai

(MENAFN- The Conversation)

My research includes and of childhood vaccination. COVID-19's effects on children has an impact on that research. And these effects appear to be changing, making the need for widespread COVID-19 vaccine uptake among children more urgent.

Early in the pandemic, evidence suggested children . That rosier picture is now fading. Emerging research signals that children's susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has increased in over the course of the pandemic.

One newly released study of British Columbia's Lower Mainland chronicles the . This surge in childhood infection with the Omicron variant is consistent with .

Increased frequency of infections among children will necessarily yield a , including . Children with co-morbidities are to severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Like adults, children can also suffer from long COVID that can , and create a host of other .

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Low vaccination uptake among minors

A to restrict transmission, , is advised over any one single preventive measure. This is likely even more important with on the horizon.

Yet vaccination remains one of the when occurs. Additionally, vaccination of long COVID. The for those under 18.

That's why it's alarming that vaccine uptake among minors of the primary series of two doses, particularly for those under 12, .

Compared to the , only 41 per cent of Ontario children aged five to 11 have completed their primary series. Uptake among those under five is almost non-existent, with just six per cent receiving their first doses in the two months since Health Canada approved a COVID-19 vaccine for this cohort. Numbers across the country are roughly similar.

Notably, Ontario to the list of“designated diseases” in its last fall, despite and both .

It's time to revisit that decision.

Adding COVID-19 to the act will not make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for school entry. Whether childhood vaccines should be mandatory . But it may, nonetheless, help address the COVID-19 vaccine uptake among the province's school-aged children.

Children wait in a physical distancing circle at a Toronto elementary school in September 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette Vaccine requirements for school entry

Ontario, and are the only Canadian jurisdictions that have vaccination requirements for school entry. But minors aren't required in any of those provinces to be vaccinated to attend day care, elementary or high school.

British Columbia's regulation explicitly makes the duty a reporting one only. Ontario requirements are somewhat different, as the parental duty is to Yet the duty does not apply where the parent“has filed a statement of conscience or religious belief.”

This means a parent can refuse to have their child vaccinated against any or all of the designated diseases by signing and having notarized a government-issued form affirming a

In practical terms, this makes the duty a reporting one in Ontario as well. The situation in New Brunswick is .

Where Ontario and New Brunswick differ, however, is that Ontario requires that parents seeking a sincere-belief exemption also attend an“education session.” .

A young boy is vaccinated during the first day of vaccination for children aged five to 11 in Montréal in November 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson Vaccine hesitancy and COVID-19

Vaccine hesitancy is attributed as the cause for low vaccine uptake when it comes to COVID-19. But it's complicated.

While a small percentage of parents reject all vaccines, many more are and are generally more cautious about newer ones than older ones. In fact, generally positive parental attitudes about routine childhood vaccines are a poor indicator of their attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines, both .

When it came into effect in Ontario in 2017, the requirement to undergo an education session for those seeking a sincere-belief exemption made little difference in attitude because vaccine uptake against the designated diseases, , was still generally high.

And education sessions can be like sermons to that dogged minority whose minds are made up on the topic. Mandatory education and cause people to become more entrenched in their opinions.

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However, there is a very large gap between low childhood vaccination rates for COVID-19 and the high rates for routine childhood vaccines.

Not anti-vaxxers

This suggests that most parents who have so far refused COVID-19 shots are not hard-core anti-vaxxers. This may provide an opening to sway more parents to have their children vaccinated.

Research about parental attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccination is fast-moving, and understandably there are large gaps. But the general conclusion is that vaccination campaigns targeted to specific demographics can increase uptake.

It's unclear whether adding COVID-19 to the list of“designated diseases” in Ontario or elsewhere in Canada would have the desired effect. And certainly the design and content of education sessions matter.

But it defies logic to have a regulatory scheme already in place committed to increasing“the protection of the health of children” and decide that a pandemic is not a good time to use it.

The Conversation


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