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By Ruby Irene Pratka

Local Journalism Initiative

Public health officials are encouraging parents to get their young children vaccinated against COVID-19 after a slow initial start to the vaccination campaign in the region.

Vaccines for children aged six months to four years became available July 25, and as of July 28, only 450 young children in the region had received their first dose or were scheduled to do so.

“We are encouraging parents to have their [young] children vaccinated to improve their own protection against COVID and help protect their community,” said Marie-France Beauregard, director of the COVID vaccination program for the CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS. “Children under age five have a greater risk of complications leading to hospitalization than older children…and there’s also the possibility that [unvaccinated] children could transmit COVID to others.”

The vaccine currently given to young children is the Moderna vaccine in a reduced dose, one-fourth the amount given to an adult. Beauregard added that the shot was safe, had been given to “thousands of children” in the United States and Israel and had received Health Canada approval. According to the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), under normal circumstances, children aged six months to four years, including those who have already had COVID, should receive two doses at an interval of at least eight weeks. Children who have cancer or have weakened immune systems may need three doses.

Babies under six months of age cannot be vaccinated, but are protected by antibodies received in the womb, provided their mother was vaccinated during her pregnancy, explained Dr. Nicholas Brousseau of the INSPQ. Parents whose children have recently received standard early childhood vaccines should wait at least two weeks before bringing them in for their first dose of COVID vaccine, he said. As for side effects, Brousseau said that although studies have shown the vaccine to be “well tolerated” in young children, some pain around the injection site, fatigue and fever may surface in the day or two following vaccination; if side effects last longer, parents should call 811.

Beauregard said summer vacation was partly to blame for the relatively low uptake of vaccines for young children. “People don’t watch TV as much, they don’t read the papers as much, they’re outside enjoying life,” she said.

She said the CIUSSS intended in the coming days to launch a social media campaign to answer parents’ questions and develop an information sheet in collaboration with early childhood education experts, in order to promote the benefits of vaccination. “If your child is four or five years old and going to school this year, it’s seriously something to think about,” she said, inviting parents to take the opportunity to get their third or fourth booster shot and make sure older children’s vaccines are up to date. “Now is the time, because in the fall, [vaccination campaigns] will prioritize older people,”

she said.

Beauregard encouraged parents to book vaccination appointments on the ClicSanté portal. Pharmacies do not currently offer the vaccine to children under five; it is being given at nine vaccination centres around the region, which also offer vaccines to older children and adults. She said babies and young children would be vaccinated by staff with specific training and interest in working with those age groups, and English-speaking staff would be available at “almost all” vaccination sites.

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