As kids head back to school, hundreds of thousands of children aged 12 to 17 have now been vaccinated for COVID-19 in B.C. and the BC Children’s Hospital Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) has helped to make their experience a little easier.
The YAC team created strategies to help create a more youth-friendly environment for COVID-19 vaccination – and Dr. Bonnie Henry mentioned the team’s efforts during a press conference in May.
“We have been working with the youth advisory committee from the BC Children's Hospital to make sure that we have youth-friendly clinics available and we can answer the questions that young people have about these vaccines and about their concerns,” Henry said. “For youth, I think it really is about them speaking to each other on this. We've engaged with… the youth advisory committee at Children's Hospital around immunizations, and what are the things that matter most to young people.”
The YAC is a group of diverse youth volunteers aged 12 to 23 who meet monthly and work on projects with the aim to support youth-friendly and patient-centred care at BC Children’s.
The team came up with recommendations for B.C.’s vaccination sites, including creating a special space for youth with anxiety about needles or getting vaccinated. The group also felt it was important for youth to know they have the right to give their own consent, without their parents, to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We were impressed they raised the ‘mature minor consent’ for immunization as an important part of the rollout,” says Christy Hay, the Co-Lead of the PHSA Vaccine Planning Team and Interim Executive Director of CW CST and Clinical Operations at BC Children’s Hospital. “Public health knows this information, but there’s a variety of health care professionals and first responders in these mass clinics that are providing vaccines. You’ve got firefighters, paramedics, retired physicians, et cetera. They may not be as familiar with this information or providing health care services to youth.
“We make assumptions as adults about what we think might be important for youth and I think we’re often surprised at their knowledge and experience and maturity of the information they give us. They’re quite sophisticated," says Christy.
Adolescent Health Medicine Nurse Clinician Sabrina Gill, who created the YAC, says the group was pumped about being mentioned in a provincial press conference.
“Oh they were so pleased,” says Sabrina. “The youths noticed and were very excited. They said it puts the spotlight on the youth voice - and that it is important. It tells youth across B.C. that their experience is being valued."
The team also suggested the vaccination centres have messaging debunking anti-vaccine myths and that those giving the vaccine clarify that youth can either look at or look away from the needle.
The YAC first got involved in the provincial recommendations back in January 2020. It was a multi-faceted collaboration with research and community partners to help develop a comprehensive vaccine research agenda through BC Children’s and the UBC Vaccine Evaluation Center. Two of the YAC members presented that research agenda to Bonnie Henry, just before the pandemic hit.
After COVID hit, Christy wanted to make sure that the youth voice continued to be heard throughout the provincial roll-out plan for youth 12 and up.
“I thought we should connect with the YAC group, knowing the mass clinics are set up very differently from what youth are normally used to, like at a school or at a family immunization clinic,” says Christy. “We realized we needed to consider things like groups of families coming, for example. How was that going to impact their waiting space? Also, the appointments may take a bit longer with possible increased anxiety & questions. There were many things to consider.”
Sabrina and Christy then presented the ideas to the provincial mass clinic working group and Christy further presented the ideas to Vancouver Coastal Health and its vaccine group. They made a point to include youth in foster care in the vaccination process, as well as youth in group homes and Covenant House as well as Ray-Cam Community Centre, for street-entrenched youth.
“The provincial mass clinic meeting members felt it was really meaningful to hear the comments and they implemented it in their own health authority,” says Sabrina.
"Our goal was to emphasize the valuable knowledge and experience that youth have to offer and to convey the importance of involving youth in all stages of vaccine research,” says YAC member, Katelyn Watson. “Our presentation to Dr. Henry was very well received, and to come full circle and see those exact thoughts coming into fruition over a year later has been really exciting and encouraging.”
The uptake for 12-17 year olds has been “tremendous,” says Christy.
“Kudos to the group,” she says. “Bonnie Henry mentioned them a couple times and that just demonstrates a lot of respect for our Youth Advisory Committee. It empowers them.”
More than 72 per cent of youth (at least 224,000) aged 12 to 17 in B.C. have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 58 per cent (at least 180,000) have had two doses. That number continues to grow each day.
“It’s nice to see youth doing their part to end the pandemic in B.C. and this all helps us get back to our more normal interactions,” says Christy.
B.C. has shortened the time between COVID-19 vaccines doses from 49 to 28 days and it’s now easier to find a second vaccine. You can get your second dose at a drop-in, mobile or special event clinic. For more information on getting a first or second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, see the BC Centre for Disease Control website
Vaccination protects not only yourself and your child, but also those around your family, including vulnerable populations who may not be adequately protected by vaccine or children under 12 who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet. If a young person is vaccinated, they are much less likely to experience serious outcomes of COVID-19 and they are also much less likely to spread COVID-19.