In B.C., the COVID vaccination rate among children age five to 11 is 47 per cent — the second lowest in the country, only ahead of Alberta, according to Health Canada data as of Jan. 15.
This falls behind the national average of 51 per cent.
Dr. Manish Sadarangani, director of the Vaccine Evaluation Center at B.C. Children's Hospital, says while questions among parents about vaccine safety have lessened over time as more children are vaccinated, there is still the perception that children are less at risk of serious illness from COVID-19.
"We've now had this vaccine given to millions of children in North America and we've seen over the last couple of months there's been no significant safety concerns," said Sadarangani.
He added: "There is still a perception that this is a mild disease in children."
On Tuesday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) revised their recommendation from November 2021, which stated that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine "may" be offered to children. That has been changed to "should."
NACI says they have strengthened their recommendation after assessing safety data from real-world use and evidence from older age groups.
"Due to the sheer number of children infected with the Omicron variant as it continues to spread through Canada, hospitalizations are increasing in children," said NACI Chair Dr. Shelley Deeks.
Sadarangani says despite children typically experiencing less severe illness from COVID-19 compared to adults, the way in which people are affected can be unpredictable.
"We don't know who is going to get severe disease and who is going to get a more mild illness, and so the safest approach to preventing that severe disease is by vaccinating everyone," said Sadarangani.
Variations in vaccine rates across the province
The vaccination rate for children age five to 11 across the province is varied, ranging from about 20 per cent in some communities to more than 70 per cent in others.
Sadarangani says there are many reasons for the differences, and convenience could be a factor.
"The uptake in the Vancouver Coastal region is much higher than in Northern Health. The issues are different and the solutions are not necessarily going to be the same."
Sadarangani also says the likelihood of five- to 11-year-olds experiencing side effects from getting the vaccine is lower compared to any other age group, and the benefits of getting children vaccinated vastly outweigh the risks.
"For kids right now we don't have any real treatments that we know are effective so preventing the disease in the first place is going to be the best solution."