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COVID-19 vaccinations now available for Sea to Sky kids aged 5-11

VCH vaccine clinics scheduled for Myrtle Phillip Community School on Mondays and Fridays until Dec. 20

Sea to Sky children between five and 11 years old are now eligible to receive their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

There are approximately 700 children within this age group in Whistler, including Whistler local Amanda Wilson's two kids, eight-year-old Zadie and five-year-old Tristan. They each received their first shot at a Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) clinic held in the Millar Room at Myrtle Philip Community School on Friday, Dec. 3. 

"My eight-year-old daughter was just fine," said Wilson. "She had really been wanting to get it for a while. My son screamed down the place, but he's only five so they said that's kind of normal—it'll be a two parent job next time."

Otherwise, the process was "no problem," she added. The clinic "had kids' stickers, there was candy. They try and make it easy, they try and distract the kids with some puzzles." 

Health Canada approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 on Nov. 19, after a thorough review of available data found the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine for children in that age group outweigh the risks. The pediatric vaccine was 90.7 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 in children and no serious side-effects were identified, according to the department.

B.C. children aged five to 11 became eligible to receive their first dose on Nov. 29. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization says children getting a COVID-19 vaccine should receive two doses, and recommends the second dose be given at least eight weeks after the first dose. The Pfizer vaccine for kids under 12 uses a smaller dosage of the same vaccine used for adults and older children.

As of Dec. 6, a total of 21 per cent of children aged five to 11 within the VCH authority have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, including nine per cent of Howe Sound LHA residents within that age group. Out of all Howe Sound residents aged 12 and older, 98 per cent have received at least one dose, and 93 per cent have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Parents must register their children to get vaccinated online or by calling 1-833-838-2323 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT seven days a week. Afterwards, they will be invited to book an appointment to receive the vaccine. Wilson said she received both an email and a text last week inviting her to make an appointment for her kids' vaccines.

The vaccines are free and children do not need a health care card to receive their shot. One parent, legal guardian or custodial caregiver is required to provide consent at the clinic location. 

Though children are at a much lower risk of suffering severe effects from COVID-19, the  virus can still result in serious outcomes and long-term symptoms for some. "The vaccine will help children and families safely get back to many important activities that positively benefit children's physical and mental health," notes VCH on its website. "The vaccine also reduces the risk of transmission to children's close contacts who may be at higher risk of severe illness because of age or underlying medical conditions."

Part of the reason it was important for Wilson to see her two children vaccinated was because of their immune-compromised grandparents, she said. "And we just thought it'd be good if everyone in the community was [vaccinated,]" she added. The family also returned to Whistler recently from a mountain-biking trip to Arizona, which they're planning to repeat in 2022. With both kids not vaccinated this time around, they had to miss two more weeks of school after returning home from the U.S. as a precaution. That "was kind of a bummer," said Wilson, "so now they really don't have to do that next year."

Wilson described the general sentiment she's observed surrounding support for kids' vaccines as "50-50" among Whistler parents. 

Dr. Devon Greyson, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health, said it’s understandable that some parents are questioning whether to vaccinate their younger children, considering COVID-19’s typically mild effects on kids in that age group. That said, the virus “can cause hospitalizations, and we’re seeing that about two per cent of cases,” they explained. 

And in the U.S., where COVID-19 has been more widespread than in B.C., “one in three children who’ve been hospitalized for COVID had no underlying conditions at all—not even very common ones such as asthma,” said Greyson. Plus, they added, the long-term effect of the virus on children remains unknown. 

“The other reason that we’re encouraging people to vaccinate children is to help end the pandemic,” Greyson said. “While most children have fared well medically, the costs of the pandemic have been many, from worrying about bringing an infection home to grandma to having school and activity closures to, sometimes, families’ social or financial hardship. 

“The sooner we can end this pandemic, the better it will be for all our kids.”

As Greyson explained, data shows the risk for children aged five to 11 suffering adverse effects from a COVID-19 vaccine is not only lower than the risk of those children suffering severe complications from the virus itself, but is also lower than the risk of adverse effects from the vaccine faced by adults and even teenagers.

“While adverse events following immunization do occur, these events are very uncommon and are vastly outweighed by the risks associated with COVID-19,” noted the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) in last month’s B.C. COVID-19 Situation Report for K-12 schools.

The BCCDC defines adverse events following immunization (AEFI) as “any untoward medical occurrence which follows immunization and which does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the use of a vaccine.” 

According to the BC CDC, there have been 133 AEFI reports linked to COVID-19 vaccines among 12 to 17 year-olds in B.C., for a reporting rate of 26.1 reports per 100,000 doses administered. Fourteen of those adverse events were considered serious enough to warrant hospitalization. All teenagers have since been discharged.

Provincial data suggest that the risk of catching COVID-19 is 13 times higher for unvaccinated 12 to17 year-olds compared to their vaccinated counterparts, according to the BC CDC. The risk of being hospitalized due to a serious AEFI is 2.7 per 100,000 doses administered for 12-17-year-olds. In contrast, the rate of being hospitalized for COVID-19 among unvaccinated youth is 37.3 per 100,000 population. There have been no hospitalizations for their vaccinated counterparts. 

For context, the risk of dying from a motor vehicle crash is 7.3 per 100,000 population for those aged 15 to 24, according to 2019 data from B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

COVID-19 has not resulted in any deaths among 12- to 17-year-olds in B.C. to date, regardless of vaccination status. There have been two deaths linked to COVID-19 in children under 10. 

Adverse effects tend to occur in the six weeks following vaccination, said Greyson. “While this is the first mRNA vaccine to be approved for use in the general population, [researchers have] been studying them in clinical trials for decades, and haven’t seen any long-term effects from any of those at this point,” they said. 

The biggest risk posed by mRNA vaccines is myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart. 

“So far, about 5 million children aged five to 11 in the U.S.—which is more than our total number of eligible children in Canada—have been vaccinated and we don’t yet have any reports of vaccine-associated myocarditis,” said Greyson, “which is amazing news and should be very reassuring.”

How to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for your 5- to 11-year-old

VCH's Whistler immunization clinics take place on Mondays and Fridays at Myrtle Philip Community School over the next two weeks (Dec. 6, 10, 13, 17, and 20) from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. 

Vaccination clinics are also available at the Pemberton Health Centre Vaccine Kiosk on Tuesdays and Thursdays (Dec. 7, 9, 14, 16, and 21) from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturday, Dec. 18 at Pemberton Secondary School from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The clinics accommodate eligible children and adults. Drop-in appointments are now welcome for those aged 12 and older in need of a first or second dose, at all VCH COVID-19 vaccination clinics on a first-come, first-served basis. People in that age group are eligible for a second shot 28 days after their initial dose.

Drop-ins are not available for the 5- to 11-year-old group. The BC Centre for Disease Control has an array of resources available to help prepare children for their vaccine appointment, if they're nervous about getting the shot. 

People aged 70 and older (as well as as well as Indigenous Peoples 18 and up) who are registered in the Get Vaccinated System, and received a second dose at least six months ago are invited to book their third dose, or COVID-19 "booster shot." Appointments are required for a third dose.

So far, 469,176 British Columbians have received a booster dose, according to data released by the province on Dec. 3

- With files from the Canadian Press