British Columbia

B.C. health officials launch campaign to keep child vaccinations on schedule

Fear over COVID-19 is keeping some parents away from vaccination appointments for their infants, and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control wants them to keep on track for the child's safety.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control says some parents have cancelled appointments out of COVID-19 fear

In this file photo, a pediatrician uses a syringe to vaccinate a one-year-old with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in Northridge, Calif. (The Associated Press)

Officials with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) have undertaken a social media and ad campaign to encourage parents to keep vaccination appointments, especially for infants.

Dr. Monika Naus, the medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations service with the BCCDC,  said that although health authorities don't have hard statistics, some parents are cancelling previously booked appointments for, in particular, babies and infants. 

"People are concerned about potentially getting an infection if they are to go to a clinic," she said.

Authorities across Canada and around the world are raising concerns that herd immunity may decline for non-COVID-19 diseases such as measles, whooping cough and even polio, as physical distancing measures extend from days into months and parents put off getting their children vaccinated.

"It's important, especially for babies to keep their vaccination schedules on time," said Naus. 

Most children in B.C. begin their vaccinations at two months of age, with further jabs coming in succession at four months, six months and one year. A booster is then given at 18 months, and another before kindergarten.

Naus says babies have some immunity to communicable diseases at birth from their mothers, but it does not last.

"Many babies will be vulnerable to infections like whooping cough, which are most serious when babies are young," she said.

Last summer the province scrambled to do extra vaccinations due to measles outbreaks in B.C. and abroad.

The BCCDC ads feature the face of B.C.'s response to the pandemic — provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

On April 15 she told the province during one of her daily briefings that it was important to keep vaccinations going and that it was safe at doctors' offices or local health units to do so.

The BCCDC has created a social media and ad campaign that features Dr. Bonnie Henry's comments from April 15, 2020 that parents should seek out routine vaccinations for their children despite the pandemic. (BCCBC)

Earlier this month the BCCDC issued guidelines to medical professionals on how to safely conduct vaccinations.

They include only having one parent accompany the child, pre-screening for illness, reducing the amount of people in waiting rooms, and the use of personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses.

Naus said she is confident the measures, also listed on the Ministry of Health's ImmunizeBC website, will keep parents and children from being exposed to coronavirus.

"Yes, absolutely," she said. "Parents should be reassured that every measure is being taken to avoid that type of occurrence."

Health authorities in Metro Vancouver have also expressed confidence in the ability to keep vaccinations going safely and have worked to implement the BCCDC's recommendations.

Doctors of BC, an association which represents 14,000 physicians, residents and medical students in British Columbia, says its members are consulting with patients over the phone or virtually and then arranging times for children to be brought to offices.

Patients of doctors whose offices are closed are referred to another doctor or the local health authority.

School-aged children

Naus says the focus for now is on children from birth to 18 months.

School-aged children, such as those in Grade 6 and Grade 9, receive, for the most part, booster shots to supplement what they have already received. The shots given at those ages also help catch up on any they have missed.

Naus said the school shots are often given in the fall, so there is hope children will be back in school to receive them.

If not, the BCCDC says it may have to come up with a new plan to deliver them.

For now though, she says one benefit helping any lack of immunity is that there is a reduction in the transmission of communicable diseases overall because of measures in place for COVID-19.