McMaster Children’s Hospital experts urge parents to vaccinate their children before the holidays
HAMILTON, ON – Although COVID-19 vaccines have been available for children ages five to 11 for three weeks, uptake in Ontario has been slow – especially in Hamilton where it is projected that only 30 per cent of eligible children will have received their first dose by the end of the month. This low number, in conjunction with the emergence and spread of the Omicron variant, is prompting experts at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) to urge parents to take action and vaccinate their children before the holidays.
“The COVID-19 vaccine appears to be safe for children,” says Dr. Jeffrey Pernica, infectious disease specialist at McMaster Children’s Hospital. “Over seven million children aged five to 11 years have been vaccinated in North America over the past six weeks – and evidence to date suggests that heart inflammation after vaccination is far less common in this age group. Given that there will be another COVID-19 wave in the coming weeks, now is the time to vaccinate younger school-aged children.”
Although most children do not develop severe disease when infected with COVID-19, some do end up hospitalized or requiring intensive care. Other children who develop COVID-19, even if the initial infection is mild, can develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome afterwards, which often has serious ramifications. Vaccinated children and adults are less likely to develop infection and spread the disease to friends and family, and so for many it would make sense to act now and have their children receive at least their first dose before the holidays.
“Many in our community are due for a booster vaccination and may therefore be more vulnerable to COVID-19 during this time,” says Dr. Pernica. “The best way to curb infections and prevent hospitalization is for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated as soon as they reasonably can.”
Parents who are concerned about the potential side effects of the vaccine in their children can rest assured that the risk of serious adverse reactions is very low. According to Health Canada, in clinical trials for the vaccine in children five to 11 years of age, no serious safety concerns were found for the vaccine currently approved for this age group.
“It seems very likely that younger school-aged children have more to gain in terms of protection from COVID-19 than to lose in terms of side effects from the vaccine,” adds Dr. Pernica. “The number of adverse events in children in our region, and across Canada, is not beyond what’s expected for this type of vaccine. The data definitely supports the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine works and is safe for children and youth.”
Dr. Pernica notes that other seasonal illnesses are also on the rise among children in Hamilton, leading to very high levels of activity at McMaster Children’s Hospital. Of particular concern is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which has contributed to increased occupancy in MCH’s emergency departments, intensive care units, and inpatient wards in recent weeks. “The emergency department and wards were already full before Omicron arrived. To safeguard our ability to care for our paediatric patients, we should do everything we can to prevent additional illness in the population.”
Dr. Pernica stresses that families should adopt good infection prevention habits to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and to ensure a healthy holiday season, including:
- Ensuring all family members are up-to-date with their immunizations.
- Regular handwashing, especially before and after eating and after visiting public spaces.
- Staying home and avoiding school, work and social gatherings if you feel sick.
- Continuing to follow public health guidance for reducing the spread of COVID-19, including wearing a mask and practicing social distancing where required.
- Seeking a COVID-19 test if you suspect you or a loved one has the virus, and following public health guidance on isolation measures.
In Hamilton, children can receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the locations listed on the City of Hamilton Public Health website.*
*These clinics are walk-in for those age 12+ requiring first or second doses. Appointments are required for children age 5 to 11.
– 30 –
Dr. Pernica discusses the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11 and the holidays (below)
McMaster Children’s Hospital has developed several resources to support families in decision-making around the COVID-19 vaccine.
- COVID-19 vaccines for children 5-11 are safe and effective
- COVID vaccine side effects for children and youth
- Protect your heart with the COVID vaccine
- Altruism, empathy and COVID vaccines for kids
- Tips for parents preparing their child for the COVID-19 vaccine
- How to respond to heightened emotions when talking about the COVID-19 vaccine
- Will these doctors have their own kids vaccinated against COVID? “Absolutely yes.”
For more information, please contact:
Communications & Public Affairs
Hamilton Health Sciences