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There is no vaccine yet for children under the age of 12, so the best way to protect them is through high vaccination rates among those who are eligible.
August 12, 2021

“Back to school is the safest choice” says McMaster Children’s Hospital doctor

Dr. Jeff Pernica is an infectious diseases doctor at Hamilton Health Sciences’ McMaster Children’s Hospital. He says children returning to in-person learning this September is the safest choice for them – for the sake of their mental and physical health.

The benefits of in-person learning

Doctor Jeff Pernica, glasses, curly brown hair, colourful plaid button down shirt

Dr. Jeff Pernica

There are many benefits associated with in-person school. The education part is so important, but there’s the physical aspect and the social and emotional health aspect. There are so many things about attending school that make our children healthier and happier that I am very excited about them getting back to school in the fall.

While getting back to a regular daily routine is beneficial to parents, the real impetus is that kids can be who they want to be. There are so many things associated with being in school that are more than making things convenient for the parents. It’s about our kids being as healthy and successful as possible.

Two doses are better than one

According to The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences of Ontario (ICES), in late July, it appears that two-thirds of teenagers have had at least one dose. Fewer than that have had two doses. It does differ by postal codes, so a few areas of Hamilton will have different rates. There has been a push, though, to get more teenagers vaccinated – which I think is a great idea given that we know the Delta variant spreads a lot easier than the original COVID-19 and other variants. While two doses of mRNA are still effective against Delta, one dose isn’t as good.

Going back to school is the healthiest for our children.

“It’s about our children being as healthy as possible”

The Delta variant is more transmissible and it’s almost certainly possible that we’ll see more cases go up in the fall. Safety is important — we should do what’s safest for our children. Safety is not just about not catching COVID, it’s about our children being as healthy as possible. We really need to pay attention to what’s going on with them. Going back to school is the safest choice because there are so many benefits that school brings. This is the way they will be the healthiest – the educational aspect, physical activity aspects – getting to school, gym class, extra-curricular activities.

We shouldn’t minimize the emotional dimensions of going to school. If you speak to my adolescent medicine colleagues and my psychiatry colleagues, they will tell you there was an explosion of health admissions – mental health disorders such as eating disorders, anxiety, and mood disorders. Going back to school is the healthiest for our children.

Vaccination is the right choice

Vaccine hesitancy isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s about different concerns to different people. I would say for most people who haven’t been vaccinated, it’s not easy for them to do so. It’s hard for people to take time in the middle of the day. They may not have proper transport. I think the City of Hamilton has done a good job addressing these concerns. If you Google “get a vaccine in Hamilton,” you’ll see there are a number of clinics or other possibilities to get your vaccine. There are mass vaccination clinics, mobile vaccine clinics, and a number of pharmacies that offer mRNA vaccines to teenagers — hopefully within the reach of most of our citizens. A lot of them are open evenings and weekends.

There are also a lot of people are worried about the needle. It’s not something to be laughed at. It’s not just a problem for children; it interferes with universal immunization. What I would say to everyone is that there are a number of evidence-based resources to deal with this. Anyone can look up information on the Immunize Canada or Kids Health First websites that talks about ways to deal with needle phobia and anxiety.

vaccines are just about the safest medical intervention

And finally, there are a lot of people worried about side effects. Vaccines are just about the safest medical intervention that they will ever get from their doctor. Safer than antibiotics, safer than most medicines, safer than surgeries. We know that to this point, there are hundreds of millions vaccinated across the world from various jurisdictions, so we have a good idea of the side effect profile associated with these vaccines. I will happily say that vaccination is the right choice for most Canadian teenagers.

This interview originally aired August 12, 2021 on CHCH Morning Live.