British Columbia

B.C. health officials encourage families with 5- to 11-year-olds to register for vaccination

As B.C. health officials await a federal review of COVID-19 vaccines for five- to 11-year-olds, they are encouraging families to register their children through the provincial Get Vaccinated portal.

Those who registered will be notified to book a shot once federal government approves vaccine

Doses of COVID-19 vaccine are pictured on Dec. 15, 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

As B.C. health officials await a federal review of COVID-19 vaccines for five- to 11-year-olds, they are encouraging families to register their children for the shot through the provincial Get Vaccinated portal.

"Registering your child is a great step right now as we await approvals from Health Canada," said a spokesperson from the B.C. Ministry of Health in an email to CBC News on Saturday.

The Get Vaccinated portal went live in April and allowed different cohorts based on age to register to be vaccinated.

Those who registered received notifications when it was their turn to book an appointment.

'When it's your turn'

The province says the portal has allowed children aged five to 11, for whom there is currently no approved COVID-19 vaccine in Canada, to be registered for some time. 

But as Canada moves closer to approving a vaccine for the age group, it's important for families to be prepared for the jab, the ministry said.

"Throughout the pandemic, B.C.'s approach to vaccination booking is that we provide notification to people when it's their turn to book," said the health ministry spokesperson. "You are scheduled based on when it's your turn, not when you register."

To register online, you must provide a first and last name, date of birth, postal code, personal health number and an email address or a phone number that can receive text messages.

Registration can also be done over the phone at 1-833-838-2323 (toll free).

The advice to register comes after the province said Friday that the rules on wearing masks in indoor public places would be revised to include children aged five and older, in order to better align with new school masking rules now in place for kids in kindergarten to Grade 3. An official announcement is expected this week.

'Highly beneficial'

Daniel Coombs, a math professor who has been advising the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on COVID-19 modelling, encourages parents to balance the risk between the vaccine itself and the chance of their children contracting the disease and transmitting it to others.

He said that in teenagers, the closest comparison group available, risk with regards to the vaccine was low. As well, symptoms in children tend to be mild, but they can spread the virus that causes the disease.

"If you take the position, which I think is the right one, which is COVID is going to continue to circulate in our communities for the foreseeable future ... then under most reasonable scenarios around that, it's still a highly beneficial thing for the children, for young children, to get vaccinated," he told CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.

Tiffany Searchfield has three daughters aged seven, 10 and 13 in Vancouver. Her teenager is vaccinated and Searchfield is eager to get her younger children immunized, too.

"We have grandparents, we're members of the community," said Searchfield, who added that her uncle was in an intensive care unit with COVID-19 for seven months.

"That was really upsetting for our family. I just feel like I value our teachers, I value our community and if there's a way to contribute and keep everybody safe, I'm going to do it."

A week ago, earlier than expected, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech submitted preliminary data from their trial for a COVID-19 shot for kids to Health Canada.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said recently that approvals could come as early as the end of the month.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 6, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 69.4 per cent of COVID-19 cases.

Damien Contandriopoulos, a professor of public health at the University of Victoria, said there might be some hesitancy around vaccinating children aged five to 11 as they don't often get seriously ill from COVID-19. He wants families to consider that their infections could be passed on to more vulnerable members of families and communities.

"Most kids that get COVID, they're OK. But how many serious illnesses in kids do we think it's OK to tolerate in society when we have tools to prevent them? The answer to me is none."

To hear Daniel Coombs on The Early Edition, click here: 

With files from The Early Edition, Joel Ballard and Doug Kerr