More than a quarter of Quebec parents are against vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds, study says

A year and a half into the pandemic, a survey from province's public health research institute shows that more Quebec parents are hesitant to have their five-to 11-year-old vaccinated against COVID, compared to last spring.

22% of parents say they 'completely disagree' with vaccinating young kids

Based on the INSPQ data, 44 per cent of parents "completely agree" to have their young children vaccinated against COVID-19. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

More than a quarter of parents of children aged five to 11 say they would not get them vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the latest data from Quebec's public health research institute. 

A survey by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) conducted from Oct. 1-13 gave a portrait of parents' intentions to vaccinate their children aged five to 11. At this time, there is not yet a COVID-19 vaccine approved for that age group.

The study shows that 22 per cent do not wish to have their young children vaccinated. Another five per cent somewhat disagreed with vaccination and a further 10 per cent were still unsure.

"Generally, we're a lot more sensitive to risks for our children than for ourselves, and that's true for all vaccines," Ève Dubé, an anthropologist and scientific advisor at the INSPQ, told Radio-Canada's Tout un matin.

"Side-effects that are minor could be perceived as riskier, more serious, or even dangerous." 

Canada has yet to greenlight a COVID-19 vaccine for this age group. So far, only Pfizer-BioNTech has submitted a children's COVID-19 vaccine for approval to Health Canada.

Results of the INSPQ survey also show that parents of young children are more negative about vaccination than parents of teenagers were when they faced the same decision last spring.

For the teens, 82 per cent parents surveyed approved of vaccination and only 14 per cent did not want their children to get the vaccine.

Andrea Cappelli, right, says her 11-year-old son Gabriel Taylor, left, has continued distance learning because he is still too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19. (Alex Leduc/CBC)

Based on the data for five- to 11-year-olds, 44 per cent of parents "completely agree" to have them vaccinated against COVID-19, and when that is added to the number of parents who "somewhat agree" to getting their children vaccinated, the rate of those in favour rises to 63 per cent.

The INSPQ's findings are based on an online questionnaire completed by roughly 3,300 people. There is no margin of error given that the poll was conducted through a non-randomized sample.

Andrea Cappelli says she is counting the days until her son, Gabriel, 11, who suffers from severe asthma, becomes eligible for the vaccine.

"There is no question that I'll take the first appointment available," she said.

She and Gabriel live in a household where four out of five family members have asthma.  

"We're doing it for for Gabriel's sake, but I'm also doing it for my elderly parents' sake," she said. "I want to give him the best shot at being protected. I know it's not 100 per cent, but it's about as good we can do right now." 

Why parents of younger kids may be wary

According to Dubé, one reason for the hesitancy for younger children is that the vaccination campaign for 5- to 11-year-olds hasn't started yet. She says support for vaccination generally tends to increase as a campaign gets underway.

Another is that parents of very young children tend to be in the 25- to 44-year-old age group, where there is the most vaccine hesitancy among adults, Dubé said.

Stanislav Kogan, a Côte Saint-Luc resident, is fully vaccinated.

However, he doesn't think COVID-19 vaccines for children have been tested enough for him to let his seven-year-old son and two-year-old daughter get the shots, if or when they become eligible.

And with very few cases of children suffering major complications from COVID-19, he doesn't think the benefit of a vaccine outweighs its risk. 

"The primary reason for [taking] a vaccine is personal benefit of the person getting vaccinated, and here I wouldn't say [the benefit] is non-existent, but it is very low," he said.

Kogan also said he'd be willing to change his mind if a coronavirus strain that was more harmful to children began to spread.

Stanislav Kogan has children who are seven and two years old. He is adequately vaccinated but he says he does not believe the benefit of vaccinating children outweighs the risk. (Submitted by Stanislav Kogan)

Rollout plan in the works

In anticipation of Canada approving the vaccine, Quebec's Health Ministry says it has been contacting parents for the past few weeks through schools to determine preferred methods for administering the vaccine to young children. 

The province intends to use a hybrid approach, similar to the one used for older youth, that would allow kids to get vaccinated at school or book appointments with their parents.

"The goal is to show flexibility and to make vaccination accessible to parents of these children who will need to book appointments," Robert Maranda, a spokesperson for the ministry, said in a statement. 

"Institutes are giving specific training to those authorized to vaccinate children aged five to 11 in order to make them aware of the various techniques for approaching this clientele, which may require a little more attention than the older ones." 

Quebec estimates that there are 650,000 children between the ages of five and 11 in the province. 

with files from Radio-Canada's David Rémillard and CBC's Alex Leduc