As kids under five start getting COVID-19 vaccines, Quebec urged to change messaging

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MONTREAL — A pediatrician at a children's hospital in Montreal said Monday the government needs to do more to promote the benefits of vaccinating young children against COVID-19.

As Quebec's vaccination campaign opened to kids aged six months to five years, Dr. Olivier Drouin said the message from health officials is ambiguous and leaves parents unsure what to do.

"Parents have been told since the beginning of the pandemic that children don't get sick," Drouin, a doctor at Montreal's CHU Sainte-Justine, said in an interview. "So, why would they need to vaccinate them?"

The government's message, he said, has been focused too much on reducing the risk of infection in children. That's a mistake, he said. "The message needs to switch from lowering the risk of infection to lowering the severity of it."

"There was a time during the pandemic that we hoped vaccination would prevent infection; we are not there anymore. Everybody is at risk .… If their kid is sick (with COVID-19), either he's going to need hospitalization or not."

The vaccine, Drouin said, is not there to prevent children from getting sick but to make the disease easier and manageable at home.

Quebec on Monday started vaccinating children as young as six months, after Health Canada on July 14 authorized Moderna's vaccine for that age group. Last week, public health director Dr. Luc Boileau, alongside Dr. Nicholas Brousseau, a doctor with the province's public health institute, said the government had no specific number of children under five it wanted vaccinated.

"We are not going to set objectives for this group," Boileau said, adding that it's the choice of parents whether to vaccinate their children.

"It's really a question of vaccine availability," Boileau added. "Those for whom we strongly recommend it, it's those who have particular conditions of vulnerability." More than 100 young children were hospitalized because of COVID-19 complications during the last two waves, Brousseau said.

Kids are to be offered a dose about a quarter of the size of that given to adults. Quebec received more than 70,000 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine last week, Boileau said. He said most kids — except those who are immunocompromised — would not need more than two doses.

Quebec's Health Department said Monday that unlike in schools, there will be no vaccination clinics in daycares across the province. "Vaccinating at these locations would require a large amount of staff that would need to travel to vaccinate," department spokesperson Marie-Claude Lacasse said.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 indicators in Quebec showed signs of trending downward on Monday.

The Health Department said hospitalizations linked to the novel coronavirus dropped by two, to 2,086, adding that there were 59 people in intensive care, a rise of five patients. Total hospitalizations linked to the disease have dropped by 24 since Thursday's report.

Quebec's test-positivity rate is also dropping. Health officials reported 1,224 new infections detected through PCR testing, and they said 13.3 per cent of tests conducted Sunday came back positive — the rate was 15.8 per cent one week ago. As well, Monday's number of new cases was lower than the seven-day average — 1,815.

Four more people died of COVID-19 in the province, officials said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 25, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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