When the COVID-19 vaccines are approved and made available for young kids in Canada, Ontario mom Alyssa Beauchamp will not be rushing to get her five-year-old son jabbed.
The 22-year-old mother of three from Hamilton, Ont., who is fully vaccinated herself, is concerned about how her oldest would react to the vaccine.
“I would prefer to maybe just wait a little bit to see how other kids react before I put it in my son,” she said.
“My kids are fully vaccinated with everything else. They’re up to date on their shots. It’s just this one makes me a little bit nervous,” she told Global News.
Toronto resident Oksana Laurinaviciene, who is a lactation consultant, is in a similar predicament. While her husband is “200 per cent” in favour of getting their two children, aged 9 and 11, vaccinated, Laurinaviciene is worried about any potential side effects.
As part of its trial, Pfizer and BioNTech said data showed that their COVID-19 shot elicited a strong immune response among 2,268 children aged five to 11 that matched what was previously observed in those aged 16 to 25.
The kids’ dosage has also been proven to be safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — that teens experience, Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice-president, told The Associated Press.
Despite her concerns, Laurinaviciene she says she will most likely go ahead with her kids’ vaccinations so they can stay in school and take part in extra-curricular activities.
“They will have to get it if they want to go sing in the choir, to take piano lessons or go to the swimming pool plus travel,” the 42-year-old said.
The issue of whether to vaccinate kids against COVID-19 has become a polarizing issue for parents in Canada.
According to a new Angus Reid survey published Monday, half of Canadian parents are ready to vaccinate their children aged five-11 as soon as the shots are approved, but 23 per cent say they will not. Nearly one in five said they would eventually vaccinate their kids but would wait a while first, whereas nine per cent were not sure.
The survey comes as Pfizer officially requested Health Canada to authorize the shots for children aged five to 11 years old following a submission of clinical trial data earlier this month.
In Canada, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is already approved and being rolled out to adolescents aged 12 and older.
According to data from the Pfizer’s Phase 3 trials conducted in adults, which included over 2,000 participants between 12 and 15 years of age, the safety profile of the vaccine in adolescents was similar as for older people.
A peer-reviewed study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 15 found that the Pfizer vaccine in 12-to-15-year-old recipients had a favourable safety profile, produced a greater immune response than in young adults, and was highly effective against COVID-19.
The debate around COVID-19 vaccines has already divided Canada’s vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, polling shows.
“Canadian parents are really … mirroring how they feel about vaccinating themselves, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic when vaccines were just coming online, not quite available,” said Angus Reid President Shachi Kurl.
Lily Kostur, a Canadian mother in her 30s, said she is “too afraid” to inject her two boys, aged seven and three, with the COVID-19 vaccine, saying it is “still experimental.”
“We should all have a choice and hopefully make the best decision for our children,” Kostur, who lives in Mississauga, said.
Health Canada says it will only give the green light to Pfizer’s pediatric shots after a thorough review of the data to make sure the benefits outweigh any potential risks for the younger age group.
Meanwhile, the issue of vaccinating children has taken parents to court.
Earlier this month, an Ontario Superior Court judge resolved a dispute between separated parents over whether to have their three teenage children vaccinated against COVID-19.
The mother alleged that the father had refused to let two of the triplets who lived with him attend school in person.
The father argued that the children want to attend school in person but wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccination first and they were unable to do so because the mother had refused to give them their health cards or other identification.
Following public health directives, Justice Charney made an order on Oct. 1 that the vaccine should be made available to the children who expressed their wish to receive it.
In Ontario, under the Health Care Consent Act, there is no minimum age for capacity to make medical treatment decisions.
However, this varies across provinces. In Quebec, the age of consent to health care is 14 years of age and older. In British Columbia, it is recommended that parents or guardians and their children discuss consent for immunizations, but children under the age of 19 can legally consent to or refuse immunizations.
Kevin Caspersz, a senior associate at Shulman & Partners LLP, said this latest ruling sets a precedent for other parents who do not meet eye-to-eye when it comes to the COVID-19 jabs for their children.
“If the judge or the court determines that it is in the best interests of the children for them to be vaccinated, then that’s the way the decision is going to go,” he said.
Following the approval for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and above, Shulman & Partners LLP, which is a Toronto-based family law firm, started to receive an influx of calls from divorced parents regarding disagreements on vaccinating their children, Caspersz told Global News in May.
Difference in opinions between separated and divorced parents about vaccinating children against other diseases is generally rare, experts say. But the divide is growing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It definitely has become more polarized with COVID than most of the other vaccines,” said Dr. Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal.
With the spread of misinformation on social media, questions around vaccination from both kids and parents have taken on a “new life”, she said, “which is unusual”.
Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, said the parents’ concerns stem from having unanswered questions.
“I think it’s vaccine questioning more than hesitancy,” she told Global News in a previous interview.
“If people feel that it’s safe and it’s the best option for their child, especially to try to keep the kids in school for their mental health, then I think more people are going to accept the vaccine.”
For many parents, it has become a “controversial” issue, said Laurinaviciene, who is one of the admins of a Facebook group called Toronto Mommies.
“People are losing good relationships with family members just on the grounds of your vaccination standpoint. So this is a huge deal,” she said.
From a legal standpoint, when it comes to vaccinations, Caspersz said, “there is no middle ground”.
“The child’s either going to be vaccinated or not.”
He encouraged feuding parents to seek mediation to help work towards a decision. Other options are arbitration, which is like a trial but in a private setting, or take the case to court, where a judge would render a decision.
Whether parents are on the same page or not, Kakkar said the most important thing is to avoid having fights about the vaccine in front of the kids, as this could potentially create more family divisiveness and have a negative impact on the children.
If undecided or in case of a disagreement, she advised parents to seek outside medical opinion from the child’s pediatrician or family doctor.
“It’s important to have these discussions between parents, but to try and not bring in the child in the middle of the conflict,” she said.
“There are times where children will want the vaccine for a large number of different reasons and will be forced to choose parental side, so we don’t want to create any more family conflict than it already exists.”