If you missed your child’s routine immunization appointment during the pandemic, you are not alone.
As of last year, only about 70 per cent of children in B.C. were up-to-date for all their recommended vaccines by their seventh birthday, and that falls short of vaccine uptake goals, many of which hover around 95 per cent.
“Some children have gotten behind on their vaccines over the last two years," says Dr. Laura Sauvé, a BC Children's Hospital infectious disease pediatrician. “It is more important than ever to put childhood immunizations on the back-to-school checklist. The fact that we are seeing news reports of cases of polio and meningococcal disease in North America are an important reminder that these serious infections will come back if children and youth aren't protected by vaccination. There are also intermittent cases of whooping cough, chicken pox and small outbreaks of measles that are concerning."
Immunization is especially important now that people are once again traveling globally. Some vaccine-preventable diseases occur at higher rates in other countries, and the possibility of being infected and importing an infection back into Canada continues. Vaccine programs were interrupted worldwide during the COVID-19 response, and this has led to an emergence of these diseases in many countries.
“Routine childhood vaccination in B.C. protects against 16 diseases, including influenza and measles," says Dr. Monika Naus, BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) medical director of the Communicable Diseases & Immunization Service. “The schedule starts at two months of age, and vaccines are recommended at various milestones through to Grade 9. Vaccine schedules for children can be found on the Immunize BC website."
Vaccine-preventable diseases have been surfacing more in recent weeks. In Canada, Toronto Public Health has confirmed cases of invasive bacterial meningococcal disease. In June, New York State had a case of polio in an unvaccinated adult. Polio viruses were also identified in sewage in London, England.
The recent circumstances in the U.S. and England are rare events, but show potential vulnerability in under-vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
“It is a tragedy and heart-breaking every time I see a child in hospital with a vaccine-preventable disease," says BC Children's Infectious Disease Pediatrician Dr. Manish Sadarangani. “These are serious diseases and we sometimes forget that. We see children in the intensive care with disease such as bacterial meningitis, and we have great vaccines to prevent against all of the main bacteria that cause this disease in children."
If your child needs any of their routine vaccinations, contact your family doctor, health unit or pharmacy. If your child is school age, keep an eye out for information from your child's school about scheduled immunization clinics and make sure to return the necessary forms on time.
Vaccines are important tools to protect against many serious communicable diseases, including COVID-19.
Just about 50 per cent of children in B.C. aged five to 11 have the full series of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“Vaccination protects from serious illness due to COVID-19 and is the most effective way to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our communities," says Sadarangani. “Severe outcomes of COVID-19 in young children are unusual, but they do happen. There's increased risk from some underlying medical conditions, but some children who were otherwise previously healthy have also had severe COVID-19."
Even if a child or adult has already had COVID-19, vaccination can provide a stronger and longer lasting immune response to protect against future infection.
A booster dose was recently approved for children aged five to 11 who have already had an initial series of two doses. A booster dose is recommended approximately six months after completing the initial series. You'll get a notification from the Get Vaccinated system when it's time for your child's booster dose.
The COVID-19 vaccine also recently became available for children under five years old. Parents in B.C. can register their children through the Get Vaccinated system and will be sent a link to book an appointment.
Parents of children who are moderately to severely immunocompromised or clinically extremely vulnerable, can check the BCCDC website about which COVID-19 vaccines and boosters they should receive. These individuals may not develop a strong enough immune response with only two doses of vaccine.
If your child hasn't received their COVID-19 vaccines yet, there is still time to build immunity for the school year and parents are encouraged to set up appointments as soon as possible. Sign up on the BC Government website.
Health Canada has a thorough approval process, and post-marketing safety surveillance is conducted in all provinces and territories, ensuring the safety of all vaccines and medicines available in Canada.
All COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada protect against serious complications, including from the Omicron variant. It is important to get all recommended vaccine doses to get the most effective protection against serious cases of COVID-19.
Safety tips for children in school can be found on the BCCDC website.
The most significant health effects of the pandemic on children in Canada have been the mental health, developmental and educational impacts – so trying to balance safety with maximizing connection with peers and activities is important.
More information on children and COVID-19 immunization can be found on the Government of B.C. and the BCCDC websites.
Read more tips on taking your child for their COVID-19 vaccination appointments.