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B.C.’s kids have been rolling up their sleeves for the COVID vaccine but uptick is slow

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Details of rollout for vaccinations for B.C. children 5 to 11' COVID-19: Details of rollout for vaccinations for B.C. children 5 to 11
Children aged 5 to 11 can start receiving COVID-19 vaccines in British Columbia starting next week. Richard Zussman has details of the rollout – Nov 23, 2021

First, some good news: we have crossed the 40 per cent threshold when it comes to registering children aged five to 11 to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Now, some bad news: we are only at 40 per cent, and the pace of new registrations is sluggish.

There are about 350,000 children in this age cohort in B.C. As of the end of last week, a little more than 140,000 of them had registered to be vaccinated.

However, while we reached the 100,000 mark within just a few days after Health Canada gave the green light for this age group to be vaccinated in late November, it has been a slow grind to get the numbers up since then.

For example, in the first 10 days of this month, just 20,500 kids were registered. That is just 2,000 registrations a day.

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Click to play video: 'B.C. children begin receiving pediatric COVID-19 vaccines' B.C. children begin receiving pediatric COVID-19 vaccines
B.C. children begin receiving pediatric COVID-19 vaccines – Nov 29, 2021

Read more: A family divided: When parents, kids disagree on COVID-19 vaccines

While registrations have slowed, the number of kids actually getting the jab is growing steadily, now reaching more than 5,000 a day (they totaled about 60,000 heading into this week). The way the program works is thus: a child is registered, then receives an appointment and then is vaccinated when that day comes due.

You can see the problem that potentially lies ahead. Unless registrations dramatically pick up in number, the number of those actually vaccinated will soon catch up and we will hit a bit of a wall.

A geographic breakdown of those registered shows that, as we saw in older age groups, there is a greater “buy-in” to the vaccination program in urban areas compared to rural ones.

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The highest registration rates among the health authorities are in Vancouver Coastal Health (52.5 per cent) and Vancouver Island (47 per cent).

However, Northern Health (24 per cent) and Interior Health (32 per cent) both have low vaccination rates. About 80,000 kids in this age cohort reside in these two giant health regions and fewer than 25,000 have registered to be vaccinated.

Fraser Health has seen the most registrations (more than 55,000) but its rate is just 38 per cent because it is by far the most populous of all the health authorities.

There seems to be a higher level of vaccine hesitancy among parents when it comes to this age group. Obviously, tens of thousands of parents who are fully vaccinated have yet to register their kids to follow suit.

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Helping a child who is afraid of needles' Health Matters: Helping a child who is afraid of needles
Health Matters: Helping a child who is afraid of needles – Nov 29, 2021

Read more: B.C. to start vaccinating kids age 5 to 11 against COVID next week

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An Angus Reid poll back in October showed B.C. would likely get to the situation in which it now finds itself when it comes to vaccinating five to 11-year-olds.

That poll suggested more than 20 per cent of parents would “wait” an undetermined amount of time before getting their children vaccinated while about 10 per cent were not sure. About half said they would act quickly to get their kids the jab.

A combination of factors may convince hesitant parents to register their kids.

First, there is a steady accumulation of “real world” data in the U.S., which got started on vaccinating millions of youngsters earlier than Canada did. It is showing positive results.

Second, the Omicron variant of concern may sweep through the province (as it is threatening to do around the world) and that may inject a new element of worry into the conversation.

In the days and weeks ahead, look for B.C. health officials to redouble their efforts to convince hesitant parents to get their kids registered and vaccinated.

The ultimate goal is to break the transmission of the virus, Vaccinating as many as possible among our 350,000 young people will greatly assist in achieving that.

Keith Baldrey is the chief political reporter for Global B.C.

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