No time for vaccination mandates, even if childhood vaccinations remain low: experts
Less than half of Canadian children aged 5 to 11 have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but Canadian experts say now may not be the time to start making them mandatory for children. students who attend school in person.
In December, Windsor City Council has approved a recommendation of his health unit that all elementary students be vaccinated before returning to school.
Meanwhile, in the United States, New York City now requires students to be vaccinated before participating in extracurricular activities. California, which already has strict vaccine requirements for college students, is considering adding the COVID-19 vaccine to that list.
“For provinces that don’t have vaccination mandate policies, starting a conversation about vaccination mandates at a time when emotions are running high around vaccination is risky business,” the health researcher said. public Devon Greyson.
Greyson, an assistant professor of health communication at the University of British Columbia, has studied the effectiveness of childhood vaccination mandates. They found that even though adoption is increasing, the increase cannot be solely attributed to mandates. Better communication, access and notification systems have also played a role.
In fact, in some jurisdictions, mandates have done more harm than good by keeping some people away from vaccination, Greyson says.
“I recommend first really trying to build public confidence and make it as easy as possible for people to be vaccinated before considering any policy that has potentially negative consequences for children or parents,” they said. declared.
No provincial or territorial government has announced plans for a COVID-19 vaccination mandate in schools, but jurisdictions like Ontario and New Brunswick already require vaccinations against certain preventable diseases for students entering school. the public school system.
Legislation to reinforce compulsory vaccination rules for NB school children was proposed in 2020, but was rejected. “There are varied opinions, and very clear-cut opinions”, Premier Blaine Higgs, who voted for the change, said earlier this month on CBC power and politics.
Dr Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious disease expert who advises vaccine-hesitant parents, says with low vaccination coverage among children aged 5 to 11 – and children returning to school – there is an urgent need to get them vaccinate as soon as possible. But she refrained from calling for a warrant.
While Constantinescu thinks a vaccination mandate could be effective, she pointed out that some children risk being kept out of the classroom because of such a policy.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, only about 5% of children ages 5 to 11 have been fully immunized. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern about low vaccination rates Wednesday, saying it puts the most vulnerable people in society at increased risk.
Access remains a key issue
In October, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the The COVID-19 vaccine would be added to the list of vaccinations required for students to attend school in person. The policy will be enforced after the federal government approves the vaccines, and the state will grant exemptions for medical reasons, as well as religious and personal beliefs.
Some school districts have mandates already promulgated in the state.
Young children are especially good at spreading respiratory disease — and that’s likely the case for COVID-19 as well, according to Annette Reagan, adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in California.
She says this justifies adding COVID-19 vaccines to existing mandates.
“Increasing vaccination rates and stopping transmission in young children is good for our community, but it comes with mandates,” Reagan said, noting that such policies limit parental autonomy.
According to Greyson, the reasons for the low participation in the pediatric group in Canada are varied, but could be explained by timing and limited access to clinics.
Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine was approved by Health Canada for the 5-11 cohort in late November – just weeks before the holidays, when non-urgent medical appointments tend to slow down.
Pediatric vaccine doses may also be less widely available than adult doses, Constantinescu said, making it harder for parents to get their children vaccinated.
“The low-hanging fruit of vaccination is always access,” Constantinescu said. “We didn’t make that as easily accessible as we could have.”
Constantinescu, however, thinks the story of children suffering from a “milder” illness when they contract COVID-19 is a key driver of low vaccination rates – a message that parents should reconsider.
“We pray and hope that it will only be a mild illness in most children. That would be fantastic and hopefully so, but we don’t know,” she said.
“What we do know is that the vaccine is safe and we have enough supply.”
“It’s in the interest of your child”
However, perhaps the most significant risk that accompanies vaccination mandates is the possibility that children whose parents are vaccine-hesitant may not benefit from in-person learning.
Constantinescu argues that some children may not have the protection offered by vaccination or the benefits of in-person learning.
With new evidence that negative side effects, such as myocarditis, are rare in the 5 to 11-year-old bracket, she says now is the time to ‘shout from the rooftops’ that the COVID-19 vaccination is safe.
“This is the biggest vaccine-preventable threat to our children and we have a safe vaccine,” she said.
“We need to tell parents that this is all about protecting your child. It’s not about saving the pandemic, it’s not about saving the world.”
“It’s because it’s in your child’s best interest.”
Written by Jason Vermes with files from Ashley Fraser, CBC News and The Associated Press.