Online forum hopes to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rate among Canadian kids


With the prime minister and Canada’s top doctor both expressing concern about the rate of vaccination among younger Canadian kids, an online forum this week hopes to “move the needle” and increase uptake by answering questions and addressing concerns.

Dubbed National Kids and Vaccines Day, a panel of experts from across the country will participate in an online Town Hall on Thursday. Children, caregivers, teachers, and anyone else wondering about the shot is invited to participate.

Fifty-one per cent of eligible children aged five to 11 have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while five per cent have received two, according to the most recent federal data. Canada green-lit use of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine for children in this age group on Nov. 19, 2021. Provinces began rolling out shots to kids shortly after.

Justin Trudeau issued a statement last week saying the percentage is “too low.” He encouraged parents and caregivers to get kids vaccinated to protect themselves, the adults in their lives, and the healthcare system.

“We need to do what’s right; we need to continue to do the right thing. That means getting our kids vaccinated,” he said. “It is safe and effective and the right way to get through this pandemic.”

Dr. Theresa Tam also expressed concern last week, suggesting the government needs to probe why more parents aren’t choosing to vaccinate their kids.

“For children aged 5 to 11 years, who more recently became eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, the key opportunity is in getting more children on the path to vaccine protection and raising vaccine coverage up from the present 51 per cent,” she said.


Dr. Manish Sadarangani is the Director of the Vaccine Evaluation Center at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. He’s one of the four doctors on the panel for Thursday’s virtual event.

“There’s a lot of questions that are really unique to kids, some of which are in this age group. I think it’s just a way of trying to address those questions directly and get questions directly from the people on the frontlines whether that’s kids, parents or the people who are interacting with them and having those conversations,” he says.

The three C’s of vaccine hesitancy 

When describing why parents or caregivers might be reluctant to vaccinate their kids against this virus, he refers to the “three Cs” — confidence, complacency, and convenience. The reasons will vary from family to family, but they are generally more complicated than opposing the vaccine outright.

Confidence refers to concerns about whether the vaccine is safe for kids, and whether it’s effective in protecting them. Sadarangani says as more kids get vaccinated, there is more data to demonstrate safety.

“We’ve now had millions of children that have been vaccinated in North America, particularly in the U.S. Many of those children have had two doses of vaccine and we haven’t seen any significant safety issues identified which has been reassuring.”

Complacency refers to the decision not to get children immunized because of a low level of concern about infection.

“There’s definitely a prevalent attitude and opinion amongst a lot of people that it’s a mild disease, most kids are either not going to get it or if they do get it it’s not going to be severe,” he says.

“While it’s true it’s mostly mild in children. Some children do have severe disease, and it’s very hard to predict who those children are going to be in advance. So, the safest way to deal with that at a population level is to vaccinate as many kids as possible to try and prevent that from happening.”

RELATED: U.S. hospitalizations skyrocket in kids too young for COVID-19 shots

Tam echoed this sentiment in a series of social media posts Tuesday.

“Despite evidence indicating children remain at low risk of severe outcomes compared to older individuals, substantially higher infection rates mean greater numbers of children with COVID-19 are requiring hospitalization than previously,” she wrote. “Children can also develop a rare but serious multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) occurring several weeks after COVID-19 infection.”

Sadarangani says convenience describes a range of issues encompassing how easy or accessible it is to get a shot. For kids, needles can be scary which is another hurdle for parents and caregivers to overcome.

Misinformation specific to the vaccine for younger kids can be tricky to counter, according to Sadarangani, since these children can’t do their own research and can’t make their own medical decisions. Kids who have received the shot also can’t generally share their stories of being vaccinated on social media.

“It’s a group of people that, for the most part, are not easily able to speak for themselves. So, I think it is relatively easy for misinformation to spread,” he says.

“I think we have to just bear that in mind and work really hard to try and make sure that the decisions are being made on accurate information.”

Outreach, advocacy and education are key to increasing uptake among this age group, Sadarangani says. While adults who were hesitant to get the vaccine may have changed their mind when passports were introduced, or when employer mandates came in, or when it became a necessity for international travel — kids aren’t required to show proof of vaccination to eat in restaurants, go to school, or to travel.

“There’s no vaccine mandates in place for this age group. That does mean that those people have a choice whether or not to vaccinate their child, which they don’t all feel that they had for themselves.”

RELATED: Online workshops help Canadians talk to vaccine-hesitant family, friends

On Tuesday, NACI upgraded its initial advice that kids aged five to 11 “may” get two doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

Now that more data is available on the safety and effectiveness of the first two doses of the vaccine, NACI now recommends kids “should” get the shots.

With files from The Canadian Press

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