60% of local parents say they intend to vaccinate kids against COVID-19

Tara Jeffrey

Six in 10 Sarnia-Lambton parents plan to vaccinated their five to 11-year-olds against COVID-19, but it’s not known if that will be enough to stop the virus from spreading in children, says Lambton’s top doctor.

“We have seen really good effects on reducing transmission as long as enough people are covered,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sudit Ranade said Thursday. “Is 60% of those kids being covered going to be enough to reduce transmission in the settings in which they gather? The answer is, we don’t know at this time.”

Health Canada announced its approval today of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged five to 11 last week, two days after Lambton Public Health released the results of two community surveys conducted to gather feedback for vaccine clinic planning and better understand the pandemic’s impact locally.

Some 60% of parents said they were likely to vaccinate their children against COVID-19, according to the results, which found family-friendly community clinics were the most preferred setting, followed by school clinics and primary care provider offices. Pharmacies were the least preferred setting.

Most parents who are unlikely to vaccinate their children said they are concerned about the potential side effects and negative long-term impact of the vaccine.

According to the survey, two-thirds think the risk of serious illness from COVID-19 in children is comparable to the flu, and over half believe the vaccine will not provide immunity for their children. One in five say they aren’t sure.

“The real question is, what is our goal here?” asked Ranade. “At this place in the vaccine rollout we have definitely achieved a primary goal, which is to reduce overall mortality. The second thing that we’ve probably done is reduce the overall burden of severe disease.

“Now what we’re talking about is, having parents vaccinate their children… to reduce what is already a low risk. But of course, many parents don’t want to take that chance that their child might be the one rare case of severe disease.”

Ranade said officials are also preparing for the threat of “anti-vax” protests as child vaccine clinics rollout locally.

“We’ve seen some of that happen. It’s small, but very vocal and can be fairly disruptive,” he said.

“So we’re also including that in some sort of our plans in terms of thinking through security needs and things like that.”

This week, Lambton’s COVID-19 numbers hovered around 35 active cases, including hospital, school and workplace outbreaks. Just over 81% of eligible residents aged 12 and up were fully vaccinated.

“Vaccination rates are creeping up slowly… still I think the real issue is whether or not 80% or 85% is enough to protect the health care system,” said Ranade, who stressed that vaccination is still the strongest defence against COVID-19, reducing the likelihood of severe disease, hospitalization and death.

“But as you would expect, we are also finding cases where people are vaccinated and do get the disease… the risk is still lower if you’re vaccinated, but it’s not impossible, which is why there are additional kinds of measures in different places.”

The results of the community health survey found even some vaccinated individuals need more education. Fifteen percent said they believe they won’t get sick at all from COVID-19, and 16% said they can’t spread the virus to others when fully vaccinated.

Residents who were not born in Canada, men, and those aged 18 to 34, were the more likely to believe this.

Nearly 9 in 10 sampled Lambton residents said they had been vaccinated. Among those not vaccinated, 72% said they aren’t worried they or a family will get infected.

Meanwhile, a majority of Lambton residents said they agree with public health measures, especially the continued use of wearing masks in public, the report stated.

“However, there is slightly less support for the use of vaccine passports and more lockdown measures should cases increase.”

The survey also identified the need for mental health and financial supports for those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Self-rated mental health has continued to decline, especially among young people aged 18 to 34.

“While we’re watchfully waiting to make sure that we can make it through the winter without a huge surge in hospital or acute care needs, the other side of this story really is that we also know that COVID-19 isn’t going away,” said Ranade, pointing to “all sorts of other impacts” beyond case numbers.

“And we have to start turning our attention to some of those as well, as we move to figure out a sustainable path forward.”