Hamilton doctor says ‘we can just let kids be kids’ with Ontario in Step 3

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Published July 17, 2021 at 3:25 am

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A doctor at a children’s hospital in Hamilton says COVID-19 is not expected to become more common in children who are too young to receive the vaccines that are on the market.

Ontario is now in Step 3 of its reopening plan, some 16 months into a pandemic that has seen children miss more days of in-person schooling than in every other province and territory across Canada. Given the lived experience of the last 16 months in the province, where restrictions have been eased, only to be re-imposed with the onset of the second and third waves of COVID-19, it’s understandable to have some anxieties about what one can do. That can be heightened for people who are responsible for the health and safety of a child who is old enough to attend school or daycare, but not old enough to be vaccinated.

On Friday. Dr. Marsha Fulford of Hamilton Health Sciences’ McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) said parents should not be scared for their children.

“We need to be realistic about what we’re scared of — and we should not be scared for our children,”Fulford, who is a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at MCH, stated in a Hamilton Health Sciences media release. “I’m pro-vaccine because I want to avoid severe hospitalization and death, but I’m comfortable that with case numbers going down and vaccination rates going up, that we can just let kids be kids.”

Fulford, like Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore, anticipates an uptick in cases in September. By all expert consensus, COVID-19 will stick around and be an endemic virus, like influenza has been for over a century.

But children under age 12 are at very low risk from COVID-19.

“There’s never going to be zero risk,” Fulford said. “But my expectations … is that we’re not expecting COVID to be more common in children. One of the good news stories about this pandemic that we need to emphasize more is how very seldom children are affected by COVID. The harm to our children has been from the unintended impacts of this virus.”

The unintended effects can include mental health issues that can be affected by social isolation from the loss of in-person schooling or activities such as dance classes or organized sports.

Dr. Fiona Smaill, medical microbiologist and infectious diseases physician at Hamilton Health Sciences, stressed that people will need to continue wearing masks indoors and also avoiding crowds to help keep the virus and its variants of concern under control locally. Most of the more newly discovered variants are “more transmissible” than earlier ones that spread before vaccines received government approval.

Hamilton has achieved 75.7 per cent first dose coverage among its adult population as of Friday (July 16), but it is much lower among adults between the ages of 18 and 44. It is possible to get COVID-19 after completing the vaccine series, but that usually only results in mild symptoms. 

Smaill said hospitals have to be part of the effort to increase vaccine uptake.

“We have to really make sure — through every possible way — that we engage those people,” she said. “I asked our social worker to book appointments for some of my patients because they didn’t know how to do it themselves. And we need to get the message out that walk-ins for both doses are now encouraged at some of the vaccination centres.”

Ninety-five per cent of Hamilton’s COVID-19 cases in the last seven months have been an unvaccinated people. They are, by far, the most at risk to have an extended hospital stay that can disrupt their life.

“If we have pockets of people who are at risk, if they have underlying health conditions, and they’re unvaccinated and catch the virus, they may need to be hospitalized,” Smaill said.

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