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Why it's important to vaccinate children against COVID

Some parents who fear myocarditis or think vaccinating children isn't necessary are overlooking a few things.

This article was originally published in the Montreal Gazette

Now that Health Canada has approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11 years and appointments can be booked on Clic-Santé, with any luck most should be able to get at least one dose before the holidays.

But some parents are still hesitant about vaccinating their children.

Some are worried about myocarditis, even though the risks are extremely low and largely confined to young men in their late teens and early 20s rather than young children. Also, it’s worth reiterating that the vast majority of myocarditis cases seen were mild ones that resolved with anti-inflammatories.

Many parents also question whether the vaccines are even necessary for young children. They claim, mistakenly, that children do not get sick with COVID-19, when in fact children make up a rising portion of new cases. While many children may get by with only mild symptoms, many do not. Some have become very sick, some have been intubated and some have developed complications like the multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which actually means that COVID-19 poses a greater risk of heart inflammation than does the vaccine. And, unfortunately, hundreds of children have died of COVID-19. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 94 children in the five-to-11 age group have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic. That number is small. But we should be wary of using statistics to lull ourselves into heartlessness, and remember that these deaths are preventable, and easily preventable at that.

Some parents, on the other hand, are reluctant to vaccinate their children because they think that the vaccines will do nothing to limit the spread of the virus. They have heard, incorrectly, that the vaccines only limit the severity of symptoms without preventing infections. This idea came from the original vaccine studies where the research participants only got COVID-19 tests if they developed symptoms. So critics then claimed that asymptomatic cases went undiagnosed and the virus continued to spread unimpeded among people, albeit with fewer and less severe symptoms. This reasoning is also based on the false assumption that because some vaccinated people can still become infected, vaccination has not prevented infection in others.

Of course, one only has to look at how the pandemic evolved post-vaccine-rollout to see the impact the vaccines had on the spread of the disease. The vaccines prevent both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases and limit the spread in a population. But testing this in a research setting is complicated and would require people to be tested regularly for COVID-19 whether they had symptoms or not. Only then could you prove definitively that the total number of infections is lower in vaccinated compared to unvaccinated individuals. But for practical reasons, this is hard to do in the general population, as repeatedly testing people is logistically complicated.

But there is one situation where this type of repeat regular testing is not only feasible but was already being done.

Many healthcare institutions and hospitals were regularly testing their employees during the pandemic, for obvious reasons. Analyzing this data would allow researchers to see whether the vaccines prevented even the asymptomatic spread of COVID-19. Data from Israel and the United States have both shown that the vaccines limited the spread of the virus. Unvaccinated employees were six and 10 times more likely to get asymptomatic infections in these two studies. And of course, if you are less likely to get sick, you will be less likely to pass the virus on to others.

Some people cling to the idea that because they and their children are low risk, they can ride out the infection and don’t need to get vaccinated. They forget that even otherwise young healthy people have gotten severely sick and died. But they also forget that we get vaccinated not just to protect ourselves, but also to protect those around us and the people we love.


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