Sask. virologist responds to parents' concerns about getting their kids vaccinated

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at VIDO Intervac in Saskatoon, says any risk associated with the vaccine is much smaller than the risk of not doing it.

Angela Rasmussen says risk of getting vaccine is much less than risk of not

Some parents are concerned about getting their kids vaccinated. (Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)

Children are continuing to get COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. 

According to data presented at Saskatchewan Health Authority Town Hall last week, 17 kids have been hospitalized with the virus in Saskatchewan.

Children aged 11 and under also make up 31 per cent of the new COVID-19 cases in the province. 

Pfizer has asked Health Canada to approve its vaccine for kids aged 5-11. The province has already ordered 112,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids in that age group. The vaccines are expected to arrive as early as November. 

While some parents are eagerly awaiting the chance to get their kid vaccinated, others remain more hesitant and are worried about the side effects. 

Krista McLean, a mother in Regina, is concerned about the possible side effects for children. 

"I've heard stuff about enlarged hearts, and I just get worried about my kids and there's not a lot of clear information on the vaccination," she said. 

McLean will be fully vaccinated, but said she remains a little on the fence for her children. 

To provide some clarity on what parents should know about vaccinating their children, CBC spoke with Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at VIDO Intervac in Saskatoon. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

CBC: What would you tell concerned parents like Krista?

I would say, first of all, that she was talking about the possible risk of myocarditis [inflammation of the heart muscle]  occurring in younger people. Particularly young men and boys who received the vaccine, including those around the age of 12. 

We do know that this can happen with the mRNA vaccines. But fortunately, the good news is it's extremely rare, and it's usually not extremely serious. Even in cases where kids have been hospitalized with myocarditis, they've been successfully treated and really have good outcomes, complete recovery.

But again, that side effect is very, very rare.

Everybody's going to make their own risk-benefit calculation. But for me, the risk of COVID-19 is much more likely and is much higher even for younger kids than the risk of getting a vaccine. That's what I always come down to.

CBC: You talked about myocarditis. What other side effects might parents consider when they do the assessment?

For all vaccines, people should realize that often the really rare side effects are never detected in the clinical trials, even under normal circumstances with adults. 

But for now, apart from the myocarditis, and apart from a general risk that's also very low and is immediately treatable of anaphylactic shock — that's when somebody has a allergic reaction to the vaccine — we don't really know of any side effects that are specific to kids ages five to 11 from these vaccines.

I don't anticipate that we would see side effects that are much different than the side effects that we've already observed in adults. 

So fever, headache, tiredness, fatigue, things like that. Typical vaccine side effects that are usually transient and completely safe. 

CBC: Does the equation change at all given that we have heard over the course of the pandemic that children are most often more mildly affected by COVID-19 than adults?

As we saw over the summer in the U.S. and places where they had huge delta surges, just because that number of kids is less than the number of adults who get severely ill doesn't mean that it's negligible.

We had pediatric ICU filling up throughout Texas and Florida. Even though fewer kids get really sick, kids can and do get really sick and even die from COVID-19. 

Not to mention, we don't really know what the long term impacts are going to be on their respiratory health, on their immunological health, from having COVID-19, especially if they have a severe case. 

You just never want to be that parent who has a kid who's really, really sick.

People are saying, you know, kids don't get really sick from this. They absolutely do, and there's a huge benefit to vaccinating them. 

With files from The Morning Edition


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