Ontario’s top doctor clarifies childhood vaccine remarks

Seven-year-old Lorena Limdao receives her COVID-19 vaccine from UHN’s Dr Kevin Evelyn as twin sister Mabel and eleven-year-old brother William wait after receiving theirs at a vaccination clinic in the Jane and Finch Mall in Toronto on January 13.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, backtracked on his remarks this week about vaccinating children against COVID-19 after critics accused him of worrying vaccine-reluctant parents and fueling conspiracy theorists. But some experts say the remarks were just a repeat of the current position of the National Advisory Council on Immunization.

The controversy, which prompted Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca to ask Dr Moore to clarify his statements or be fired, was seen by some as the latest communications misstep for the province as it is scrambling to deal with a massive surge of cases. caused by the Omicron variant, and attempts to encourage more rapid vaccination of children and adults.

The province’s top doctor was asked Wednesday why Ontario hasn’t put the COVID-19 vaccine on the list of vaccines that students attending public schools must receive (or to apply for exemptions), which includes the measles, mumps and other communicable diseases.

Despite rise in hospitalizations of children with COVID-19, Omicron variant appears less severe

“It’s a new vaccine,” he replied. “And as a result of that, we want more experience with him before we even mandate him. And I don’t think any jurisdiction in Canada has mandated the vaccine yet. I would still like to see greater vaccine use.

Dr Moore then urged parents to go ahead and get their children vaccinated, which he said was safe and effective.

Mr. Del Duca, along with NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath, picked up on the remarks. Mr Del Duca, who previously called for COVID-19 vaccines to be added to those required in schools, said the comments played into the hands of people spreading misinformation. Ms Horwath also called them disturbing and another example of Premier Doug Ford’s tendency to “coddle anti-vaxxers”.

In his initial response, Dr Moore also said US figures indicated that vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 provided “significant protection against the rare risk of hospitalization in children”.

Within an hour, Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office released a follow-up statement from Dr Moore, saying the Pfizer pediatric vaccine is “safe, effective and provides strong protection against COVID-19 and its variants” and encouraging all children to get vaccinated as soon as possible. This seemed to satisfy Mr. Del Duca.

The next day, when asked about the matter by a reporter, Dr. Moore went a step further, retracting his remarks about the novelty of the vaccine and saying that the reason Ontario hasn’t added it to the vaccine list required for schools is because of the burden it would place on already resource-strapped local public health units. He said the policy would be reviewed “once things calm down”.

He also explained that current Ontario rules require parents to report their children’s vaccination status for school attendance. Parents can refuse to have a child vaccinated, but must follow a process to obtain an exemption, which includes an educational component.

“No vaccine has been made mandatory in Ontario,” said Dr. Moore.

Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician with the University Health Network in Toronto, said there was nothing inaccurate in Dr. Moore’s initial statement and that it was consistent with NACI’s current position.

A November statement from NACI says the Pfizer vaccine approved for children ages 5 to 11 “may be offered” to children.

“Given the short-term uncertainties surrounding pediatric vaccination at this time, children and their parents or guardians should be supported and respected in their decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccinations for the child, regardless of the decisions they make. take, and should not be stigmatized for accepting, or not accepting, the offer of vaccination,” it reads.

The statement also notes that young people are much less likely than older people to suffer serious illness from COVID-19, and that children should be monitored for any occurrence of rare side effects after receiving a dose.

The stress of the pandemic has made nuance difficult in debates on nearly every issue related to COVID-19, Dr Bogoch said.

“Every single parent in a province of 14 million people is watching, so you have to be very careful with your words. And maybe it could have been worded better. Despite Dr. Moore’s comments that sparked a social media storm, “the content was not fake. … It was grossly disproportionate,” Dr Bogoch said.

Martha Fulford, an infectious disease physician at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University, said any decision to require a COVID-19 vaccine for school attendance should consider the lower risk children face. are facing because of the disease and the fact that vaccines are no longer considered as effective against transmission as once thought. Many European countries haven’t even widely offered the vaccines to young children, she noted.

Basically, Dr. Moore was paraphrasing the NACI document, she said. “Quoting National Advisory Committee on Immunization guidelines and then being criticized for it – it’s kind of weird.”

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