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COVID-19: ‘Quebec will not abandon its efforts’ amid lagging vaccination rates among young kids

Students in an elementary school get ready for class. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Quebec has not abandoned its campaign to vaccinate children under 12 against COVID-19 despite a significant slowdown in the effort to immunize that segment of the population, the province’s health department contends.

Provincial figures show around 65 per cent of children five to 11 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the lowest rate of any age group eligible for the shot.

“Quebec is continuing its vaccination campaign for children under 12. Appointments are available across Quebec for this age group,” Health Department spokesman Robert Maranda said in an email.

“Quebec will not abandon its efforts, as long as people want to get the vaccine, they will be able to receive it.”

Read more: Quebec adds 3 new COVID-19 deaths as hospitalizations rise

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Fifty per cent of children five to 11 got their first dose of vaccine between Nov. 26, the date on which they became eligible for inoculation, and Dec. 17. It would take nearly another month for the immunization rate in that demographic to rise to 60 per cent.

The Health Department said 338 children under 12 received their first dose on Saturday. An average of 571 first doses have been administered a day to children under 12 over the past two weeks, according to Health Department data.

Maranda said it’s not exactly clear why the percentage of children under 12 who have been vaccinated is lower than that of young people 12 to 17. According to the Health Department, 99 per cent of young people in that age group have received at least one dose and 93 per cent have received at least two.

“It is difficult to get the exact reasons, however it is important to mention that starting at age 14, young people no longer need to obtain the consent of their parents to be vaccinated,” he said.

For younger people, some parents appear to be hesitant to authorize vaccination, he said. Another factor, he added, may be fact that a large number of youth have recently contracted COVID-19 and Quebec’s immunization committee currently recommends people wait at least eight weeks after illness before getting a jab.

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Across Canada, 56 per cent of children five to 11 had received at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19 as of Feb. 13, according to data from the federal government. At that time, only Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had higher vaccination rates for five to 11-year-olds than Quebec, while New Brunswick had a comparable rate.

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Dr. Earl Rubin, director of the infectious disease division of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, said he thinks a significant percentage of parents are hesitant about immunizing their kids against COVID-19.

The fact that vaccines are less effective at preventing symptomatic infections caused by the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus than they were against previous mutations has led parents who were unsure to not get their children vaccinated, he said.

“You put all of that together, where the parents were kind of sitting on the fence, it seems like people who are vaccinated are still getting infected and kids don’t get that sick, you’re going to reach a certain threshold where you’re not going to see the same uptake,” he said in a recent interview.

READ MORE: Quebec lifts vaccine passport requirement at places of worship, capacity limits rise

Rubin said the vaccine is safe for children, noting it prevents serious illness and offers protection against infection.

While Rubin said he thinks the government should focus on ensuring that more vulnerable people have three doses of vaccine, he added “it doesn’t mean that you can’t, at the same time, encourage vaccination for the five to 11-year-olds.”

Grandparents and other people who children come home to should be triply vaccinated, he said, “because they’re the vulnerable population that can end up in hospital. I think that is even more important than the vaccination in the kids.”

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