There was a reversal of roles in my household on Friday.
I was the proverbial kid jumping for joy in anticipation of an extra special holiday gift. My daughters (who were home because of a pedagogical day) were the ones patiently humouring their giddy mother after Health Canada finally, at long last, approved the anti-COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11.
The Montreal Gazette has long barred its journalists from using the worn phrase “Christmas came early.” But if ever an occasion warranted trotting out the tired old cliché, surely this big announcement was it.
Like many parents of children under 12, I’ve been waiting anxiously for my kids to be eligible for vaccination. I send them off to school each day in masks holding my breath they won’t be exposed to a virus that will sicken them or send us all into quarantine. Now, I’m counting the sleeps until I can book an appointment and — eek! — take the girls to a clinic so they can roll up their sleeves and be protected like the rest of us.
The good news is we shouldn’t have to wait long. Quebec has already done the preparatory work and promises to have its vaccination clinics up and running within days of the approval.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province is ready to inoculate 700,000 children with a first dose by Christmas. He referred to the operation as a gift.
Indeed, our children are fortunate to have this opportunity. As noted by Dr. Theresa Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, this is one of the only places in the world where children will have access to this live-saving vaccine.
“We’re one of the first countries,” Tam said. “We’re privileged to get these pediatric doses.”
We’re only a few weeks behind the United States, which began immunizing kids ages five to 11 against COVID-19 in early November. So far, more than 2.5 million doses have been administered south of the border, despite the widespread vaccine resistance in some pockets of the country and among Republican politicians.
Even if adult Quebecers have rolled up their sleeves in far greater number than our American neighbours, the critical objective of getting as high a rate of vaccine coverage among younger children may still prove challenging.
A recent Angus Reid poll showed only 49 per cent of Quebec parents plan on getting school-age kids immunized as soon as it becomes available.
With grandparents on their booster shot and 96 per cent of Quebec adolescents having received a first dose, don’t younger children deserve the same level of security?
The fact COVID-19 is generally less severe and not usually lethal in kids is no excuse to delay. The experts say the risks of youngsters contracting COVID-19 — including complications like pneumonia, an inflammatory syndrome or long-term symptoms — are far greater than the slight chance of highly treatable potential side effects from the jab.
COVID-19 is now primarily a disease of the unvaccinated. And because children younger than 12 haven’t been eligible, they are vulnerable. During this fourth wave of the pandemic, school kids have accounted for the bulk of new infections. With winter upon us and new cases once again rising, they not only remain susceptible to the virus itself, but to potential exposures that force them to isolate, miss class or refrain from their favourite activities.
It is urgent we get this cohort vaccinated as quickly as possible to prevent cases from rising dangerously as they are in Europe.
For 20 months, children have suffered from confinement, school closures, cancelled extracurriculars and stunted social lives. Some have endured frequent nasal swabs, isolation and serious illness. Life has gradually returned to something resembling normal for adults since the vaccination of the public began last winter. Grown-ups can now sing karaoke or dance at a bar. But the youngest members of society have in many ways been left behind — or at least left to fend for themselves.
Children between the ages of five and 11 account for about seven per cent of the Quebec population. When they join the ranks of the vaccinated, the light at the end of the tunnel of this ongoing pandemic will shine a little brighter. It will also help shield the pre-schoolers, toddlers and babies who still can’t be immunized.
Quebec has said it will carry out inoculations at schools while also allowing parents to take their kids themselves. I’ll leap at whatever option presents itself first — though I confess to wanting to be there to hug my kids, snap a photo and celebrate a historic milestone.
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