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Hamilton Health Sciences hematologist Dr. Menaka Pai encourages the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 – 11 as a physician, a parent and a community member.
November 22, 2021

Altruism, empathy and COVID vaccines for kids

This story reflects the information available at the time of publishing. Guidelines may change. Please visit the City of Hamilton’s website for the latest information.

As a physician and a parent, Dr. Menaka Pai encourages COVID-19 vaccines for everyone who’s eligible, including kids. COVID vaccines for children aged 5-11 are approved in Canada and expected to be available in Hamilton soon.

“It’s also the socially responsible thing to do,” says the Hamilton Health Sciences hematologist and lifelong Hamilton resident.

“It’s about being part of a city and a community that protects each other. For me, promoting the COVID vaccine isn’t a top-down message. It’s about meeting people where they are.”

As a physician

Making medical decisions for someone else – especially young children – is causing some parents to hesitate.

“My kids are excited to get vaccinated.”

“I understand that some parents may be on the fence about whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds,” says Pai. “These parents aren’t necessarily anti-vaccine. They just want to make the best decision for their kids. As a physician and parent of two young children, I want other parents to know that this vaccine is both safe and effective, and I encourage them to get their children vaccinated as soon as it becomes available.”

Patients often ask Pai – whose children are ages five and three – if she’ll vaccinate them. “I let my patients know that I plan on vaccinating my children as soon as the COVID vaccine is available for them.”

While children aren’t at a high risk of severe outcomes from COVID, the vaccine is a good preventative measure. And even though the risk is low, it’s not zero. “Even one vaccine-preventable death of a child is too much,” says Pai.

While most children with COVID won’t end up in hospital, getting the virus means missing school, missing extracurricular activities, and in some children, long-lasting symptoms. It can also potentially spread the virus to others. Getting vaccinated is also part of being a good citizen. “I think that resonates with a lot of parents, because they care about being good role models for their kids.”

As a parent

“My kids are excited to get vaccinated,” says Pai, whose oldest son will qualify. She’ll get her youngest son vaccinated as soon as it becomes available for his age group.

Her youngest has no memory of life before the pandemic. But her five-year-old remembers Junior Kindergarten – before being pulled out of class for the year for online learning – and going to movie theatres and restaurants.

“The pandemic brought huge changes to their lives,” says Pai.

“We need to do right by all children”

At the start of the pandemic, Pai’s biggest fear was catching COVID and bringing it home to her family. “While my kids weren’t scared, they did sense the gravity of the situation. They also saw how happy my husband and I were to get vaccinated, and started asking when their turn would be.”

This presented a wonderful opportunity for Pai and her husband to focus on the benefits of the vaccine when talking to their kids, rather than the needle itself.

“Does anybody like needles? Of course not,” says Pai. “Like a lot of things with parenting, it’s all about framing the subject. We talked to our kids about the benefits of the vaccine – how it’s something we do to protect ourselves and others in the community. It has been a wonderful opportunity to give our kids really great messages about altruism and empathy, in addition to the important things we do to keep ourselves healthy.”

Pai looks forward to the day when life can return to normal.

“I want my kids to have normal school and social experiences. And the pathway includes making sure they’re vaccinated.”

As a community member

“I completely understand that newcomers and minority groups can feel marginalized by our healthcare system,” says Pai, who is a second generation South Asian Canadian and member of the Hindu community. Her husband and children are Muslim.

Newcomers and minority groups can face challenges to accessing healthcare due to such things as language barriers, and culturally insensitive care. While they may be receiving public health messages about the vaccine, this information may be coming from individuals or organizations they don’t relate to.

“It’s important to earn the trust of our city’s newcomers and minority groups,” says Pai. “As a South Asian Canadian physician, parent and community member, I want people to know that the vaccine is safe for them and for their children. We need to do right by all children — by helping all parents feel confident that the COVID vaccine is extremely safe and effective.”

Dr. Pai took to Twitter to help dispel misinformation on the COVID vaccine and provide trusted credible sources on multiple topics, each in a thread of tweets. Here are her informative and entertaining threads (note: a Twitter account is not needed to view these links).