Legault encourages Quebec parents to get their kids vaccinated as campaign launches
80,000 appointments made for children aged 5- to 11-year-olds by Tuesday afternoon
Quebec Premier François Legault says it's a "personal choice" for parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 and they shouldn't feel pressured, but doing so could help change the epidemiological situation across the province.
"Scientists have made sure the vaccine is very safe for children. They will receive a pediatric dose," Legault during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
The premier outlined his government's plan to vaccinate children age five to 11, saying the campaign will move into schools next week. Children will not be vaccinated without their parents' written consent.
Quebec quietly opened reservations for kids Tuesday morning on the Clic-Santé website, and some 80,000 time slots were snapped up by mid-afternoon.
"It's not for nothing that the vaccine for children came out after the vaccine for adults and teens," Legault said. "There were even more tests done throughout the world and scientists have adjusted the dosage."
Canada received its first doses of COVID-19 vaccines for children Sunday evening. The shots, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, are meant for children age five to 11. Each dose is about a third of the size of the adult version of the vaccine.
Legault said there are several reasons to get kids vaccinated. For example, it will prevent school closures and reduce the rare risk of developing long-term health effects from COVID-19.
He said getting vaccinated will also allow kids to hug their grandparents over the holidays without worrying about passing the disease onto their older, more vulnerable family members.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said the government wasn't sure how well the vaccination campaign would go with the 12 to 17 age group earlier this year, but it was successful — 95 per cent have received their first dose.
"I think we can be optimistic that it will go well with the five- to 11-year-olds also," said Dubé.
School vaccination campaign with consent forms
Legault assured parents that they can find all the answers they need to make an informed decision on the province's website.
Kids age five to 11 will not need a vaccine passport for non-essential services, Legault said, but health measures, ranging from masks in schools to the passports, could be scaled back if enough kids are vaccinated.
However, the Quebec government does not want unvaccinated kids or their parents to feel stigmatized, he explained, and that's why the province is not setting a target percentage for the number of kids vaccinated.
There had been talk of setting the target at 80 per cent among kids, but Legault explained, less than that could be acceptable.
While the rules may soon be lifted, Legault added, it is important people continue to follow health measures for now so as to avoid another surge in cases just before the holidays.
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Daniel Paré, director of the vaccination campaign in Quebec, said the province's vaccination centres can handle the expected influx of appointments for kids. Appointments aren't required for each child, but it's preferred so as to avoid long lines, he said.
There will also be vaccination teams heading to schools on specific days, but before they show up, parents will receive information about the vaccine and a consent form, he said.
Weighing benefits and risks
Dr. Olivier Drouin, a pediatrician at Montreal's Sainte-Justine children's hospital, said it's legitimate for parents to have concerns about side-effects, including cases of heart inflammation linked to mRNA vaccines, but he said the benefits of vaccinating children outweigh the risks.
While children who get COVID-19 tend to be less severely affected than older people, that doesn't mean they're not affected at all, Drouin said in an interview Tuesday. A few hundred children have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Canada and there have been hundreds of cases of children suffering complications from the disease.
"Those (cases) do exist; they're severe,'' he said. "They're now preventable with the vaccine, and if we can prevent even a few of those hospitalizations, I think it's worth taking the shots.''
Drouin said cases of heart inflammation linked to mRNA vaccines are extremely rare, with around 10 to 30 cases per 100,000 doses given, and in the far majority of recorded cases, people who develop heart conditions are hospitalized for one or two days and suffer no long-term effects.
Dr. Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children's Hospital, said younger children appear less likely to suffer from those rare side-effects than older adolescents. He said he expected that the lower dose of vaccine that will be given to children, as well as the increased interval between doses, will further reduce the risk.
Papenburg said vaccination will also help reduce community transmission.
Children under 12 currently account for one-quarter of all COVID-19 infections in Canada, despite accounting for 12 per cent of the population, he said in an interview Tuesday. There will be other benefits, he added, including less disruption of school and other activities.
"Vaccinating this part of the population will allow them to safely go back to all of the social activities that are so important to their development, their well-being and their mental health, in the safest way possible,'' he said.
Clic-Santé open to reservations
On the Clic-Santé website, siblings can be booked together in a single time slot, and parents can check a box to signal if their child is nervous about the process.
Some 650,000 children in Quebec are eligible to be vaccinated.
According to data from Quebec's public health research institute, the INSPQ, about 35,000 children between the ages of five and 11 have caught COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
The age group accounts for only a small part of hospitalizations in the province. The INSPQ said only 35 children in that group have been hospitalized, and none died as a result of COVID-19.
Quebec's immunization committee said it still recommends children get the shot, citing the "significant psychosocial consequences" for children and their families, such as school closures, absenteeism and mental health problems.
It also wrote that getting children vaccinated before the holiday break could have a population-wide benefit, since it would reduce the effects of gatherings and would contribute to herd immunity.
Dubé had previously said the goal was for every eligible child to have their first dose by the holidays.
The committee also recommended waiting at least eight weeks between the first and second dose for this age group.
Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda said studies have found the delay between doses reduces side effects in kids and can lengthen immunity.
As for flu shots, he said, a two-week gap between the COVID-19 vaccination is preferred, but not required. He said the flu shot could be given at the same time if necessary.
CBC News has confirmed that vaccination centres in Montreal and Quebec City are preparing by reorganizing their spaces and redecorating to make the process less intimidating to young children.
with files from The Canadian Press