British Columbia

Some early childhood vaccinations in B.C. delayed by pandemic response

Some B.C. parents are learning their kids' routine immunization appointments are being cancelled, as public health nurses are redeployed to do contact tracing work.

Public health nurses are being reassigned to carry out contact tracing work as COVID-19 cases surge

Children typically receive several immunizations in their early years, including the MMR vaccine for measles. Some families are having their appointments cancelled as public health nurses are reassigned to COVID-19 contact tracing work. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Elizabeth Laturnus had plans to bring her six-month-old son Ethan in for routine immunizations last week at a clinic in Abbotsford, B.C.

But a few days before the appointment, Laturnus got a message that it had been cancelled.

"I was really disappointed and stressed about it, because I was ready to go do this appointment and have it done and on track," she said, adding that she had arranged child care for her two other children as part of the plan.

Hers is a situation many parents are facing, as COVID-19 cases surge in B.C. and the work required to carry out contact tracing requires more nurses.

Now, more than a week later, Laturnus still doesn't know when Ethan will get another appointment.

"[There's] no time frame, so that's just what's hardest for me," she said.

'The need is for attention to COVID'

Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses' Union, says many public health nurses are being redeployed from immunization work to contact tracing.

"We are balancing communicable disease needs, and right now the need is for attention to COVID, and if there's a concern, we will certainly be back to immunization as quickly as we possibly can," said Sorensen.

She said it should not be a problem if immunization schedules are thrown off, so long as the delays aren't too extreme.

"We do have high rates of immunization in Canada and in British Columbia with children, so that does provide me some comfort," said Sorenson, a public health nurse who spent much of her career doing immunizations.

She said many of the immunizations are for diseases that aren't responsible for many outbreaks in Canada, though some like measles and pertussis do spread in the community.

"What is important is that children do complete their immunizations within a reasonable time, and certainly by kindergarten they get their final boosters," said Sorensen.

She added that people should take vaccinations seriously and get the flu shot if they haven't already this year.

Fraser Health, the region in which Laturnus lives, didn't say how many nurses have been diverted from childhood immunization duties or when parents could expect new appointments, but sent CBC News a short written statement confirming the redeployment.

"Fraser Health is currently managing two priorities, case and contact management for rapid and concerning COVID-19 transmission in our communities and accessibility to child immunizations," the statement read.

It said vaccination clinics had been "temporarily rescheduled."

Childhood immunizations are carefully tracked by family physicians and a public records system, according to Sorensen.

As for Laturnus, she said she can understand the need to focus on the pandemic response right now, but the hiccup in her son's health care concerns her.

"I just don't want this to get forgotten," she said.

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