Sask. child vaccine rates continue to fall, COVID-19 immunizations stall as immunization awareness week ends

·2 min read
A child lifts up their sleeve to show a Bandaid after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Vancouver, B.C. on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)
A child lifts up their sleeve to show a Bandaid after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Vancouver, B.C. on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit)

As National Immunization Awareness Week winds down, two Saskatchewan experts say there is more need to educate now than ever as vaccine misinformation swirls.

COVID-19 vaccinations in Saskatchewan, including first, second and booster doses, have slowed dramatically since the beginning of 2022, and child vaccination rates in the province have fallen in recent years and continue to do so.

Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, public health physician and deputy chief medical health officer with the Ministry of Health, said weeks like these are important educational opportunities.

Much of the health-care workforce has been devoted to fighting COVID-19 on the front lines, something Kryzanowski said could have contributed to that dip in child immunization.

"At the same time, we are also concerned that the trend we're seeing in decreased vaccination uptake rates in this population group might reflect a concern or questions or hesitancy that people have about vaccination," she said in an interview.

"I think it's important to communicate that vaccines are one of the most, if not the most important public health intervention in terms of [their] effectiveness in saving millions of lives around the world every year."

On one hand, the country's success in its vaccination program is an obvious example of how effective vaccines really are, as diseases that were reported widely even just decades ago, have virtually disappeared. But this also means that maybe vaccination isn't top of mind for some parents, Kryzanowski said.

Awareness gives you more control: expert

Trina Racine, associate director of vaccine development at Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), said vaccine awareness is a powerful tool in the fight against disease, but it's not enough on its own.

"Being aware of what's available to you just gives you that extra power to have control over what you might be infected with," she said in an interview.

"People are aware, but that doesn't mean they're going out and getting all those regular vaccinations either, unfortunately."

Racine echoed Kryzanowski, saying that one reason child immunization rates are falling could be that people don't see the effect of deadly or severely disabling diseases like polio, so they may not think it's necessary.

But the reason Saskatchewanians and Canadians don't see those diseases is because of vaccines, Racine said.

Many things are needed to combat slowing child vaccination rates and general distrust of science, including battling disinformation, more awareness, and better communication from science professionals, Racine said.

"There's so much other information coming at you from so many other places that when it's that loud, that persistent, it can change how you view what the science is, what the doctors are telling you," she said.

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