Haldimand-Norfolk top doc blasted for lukewarm stance on COVID-19 vaccine for kids

·3 min read

Haldimand-Norfolk’s acting medical officer of health Dr. Matt Strauss stopped short of endorsing Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 this week, a stance that drew the ire of provincial politicians and some in the medical community.

Strauss told reporters that Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization says the vaccine “may be offered to children,” rather than NACI’s stronger recommendation that adults “should” get the shot.

“Individual families — parents and children — will have to consider what their values are, what the risks are, and what the likely benefits are,” Strauss said.

“If that’s not immediately clear to them, they should discuss it with the health-care provider that they trust. I cannot make a blanket recommendation for children that I have never met.”

Strauss stressed that as an ICU doctor, he does not have experience in pediatric medicine and is basing his advice on the NACI guidelines.

Those guidelines, released Friday, say the vaccine is recommended for children aged five to 11 who do not have any health conditions or symptoms that suggest they should not receive it.

The vaccine for children has been approved by Health Canada, and Strauss said it is safe.

“Whenever a new medication or therapy is approved for children, the question is how safe?” he said, noting the Pfizer trial included 1,000 children who took the vaccine, none of whom reported “major adverse effects.”

“Obviously, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some sort of one in 10,000 or one in 100,000 risks,” Strauss said.

On Twitter, several doctors took issue with Strauss’s position.

“I CAN ‘make a blanket recommendation for children that I have never met’ — get vaccinated for your health, your family’s health and for the health of the public,” tweeted Dr. Raghu Venugopal, an ER doctor in Toronto who has a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University.

The provincial Liberals called on the Ford government to remove Strauss from his post, with MPP John Fraser criticizing Strauss for “unnecessarily sowing doubt” about the safety of the vaccine.

Tom Closson, former president of the Ontario Hospital Association and the University Health Network, was blunt in his assessment. “Matt Strauss should not be a municipal medical officer of health,” Closson tweeted on Tuesday. “He is giving advice to parents that will endanger children.”

NACI’s review of clinical data from the Pfizer trial suggests the vaccine is 90.7 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, with the trial reporting no “serious safety concerns” such as myocarditis among participants.

Medical experts say children should be vaccinated to protect against possible “long COVID” symptoms, multi-system inflammatory syndrome and hospitalization.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, wrote that while children have generally been spared from serious illness and death due to COVID-19, they remain at risk for long-term symptoms should they become infected.

The added bonus of vaccination, Tam said, is a faster return to normal life. “Children have experienced social isolation and disruption to schooling and extra-curricular activities, which have had impacts on their mental and physical well-being as well as that of their families,” she wrote.

This is not the first time Strauss’s approach to public health has made waves. His appointment in September was roundly protested over his public skepticism of the effectiveness of lockdowns at controlling the virus.

More than 50 COVID-19 cases have been linked to recent outbreaks at schools and on school bus routes in Haldimand-Norfolk, as the region’s COVID-19 numbers surge to heights not seen in months.

The health unit tweeted on Tuesday that high demand for vaccination appointments for children has already prompted the addition of new clinic dates at Norfolk General Hospital in Simcoe.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator

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