New vaccine hesitancy clinic gives Alberta parents a place to be heard and get answers

"At the heart of every vaccine-hesitant family is a parent trying to make the best decision they can to protect their child," said Dr. Cora Constantinescu

'At the heart of every vaccine-hesitant family is a parent trying to make the best decision they can'

Parents with vaccine questions can ask their family doctor for a referral to the new vaccine hesitancy virtual clinic run by a group of Alberta pediatricians. (Courtesy Alberta Health Services)

A new online vaccine hesitancy clinic for parents and kids has opened up in the province as more Albertans have become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Virtual Kids counselling clinic for COVID-19 and vaccination questions connects parents with pediatricians so they can get answers for their questions and concerns about vaccines. 

The virtual clinic launched Tuesday, one day after Albertans aged 12 and older became eligible to get a vaccine.

"When it comes to parents, what we're hearing a lot of questions about is confidence — so issues around vaccine safety and long-term effects," said Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with the Alberta Children's Hospital (ACH) in Calgary. 

That's why Virtual Kids, a group of 10 pediatricians who have been virtually meeting with patients in Alberta during the pandemic, pulled together to create the online counselling clinic. 

Although a vaccine hesitancy clinic at ACH has been operating for years under Constantinescu's guidance, she said this new online clinic for parents fills in a gap.

"This is for patients who have gone to their family doctors or their pediatricians … and they feel they want more information, maybe more nuanced information as it relates to them," she said.

People must be referred by their family doctor to access the virtual clinic.

Why doctors said it's needed

Dr. Edward Les, a co-founder of the virtual clinic, said it's important both for parents to get factual information from a reliable source as well as be given a space to be heard.

"It's fair to say there has been some misinformation out there and the message around vaccines has been somewhat muddled," said Les, an emergency physician at ACH. 

"We've taken it as our responsibility to help cut through that fog of misinformation and to try to dispel some of the myths."

Hailey Slocombe, 21, receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday at an AHS site. About 3.8 million Albertans are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. (Submitted by Alberta Health Services)

In January, an Angus Reid poll suggested Albertans are more likely to avoid the shot than people in any other province.

Constantinescu said she believes personalizing vaccine information is key.

"At the heart of every vaccine-hesitant family is a parent trying to make the best decision they can to protect their child," she said. 

"Often people who come to us are not the staunch anti-vaxxer or anti-vaccine activists. These are people truly trying to make a really informed, good decision."

Common questions

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, a family physician and urgent care doctor in Calgary, said parents have a lot of questions.

And one of the most common ones is why let those aged 12 and up get the vaccine if kids don't get as sick with COVID-19 as often as adults.

"There are two things we can do by vaccinating kids: We can protect the teen and we can help to protect people around them by preventing spread and getting closer to herd immunity," he told Edmonton AM on Wednesday.

Les said the virtual clinic will aim to address many of the common questions parents have so people can make informed decisions. 

At the end of the day, he said, everyone wants the same thing.

"We all want to get back to normal. We want our kids to get back to sleepovers and play dates," Les said. 

"I think that's the best way to leverage this conversation with families because that's what I want for my kids and that's what they want for their kids."


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