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B.C. opens up immunizations to children 4 and under in next phase of COVID-19 fight

Infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers in B.C. can now get immunized against COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the province opened up vaccinations to children older than six months and younger than five years old.

For parent Megan Santiago Klassen, it was an opportunity she didn’t hesitate to take advantage of for her kids — the same day it was announced.

“We got here as fast as we could,” she told CBC News outside a Fraser Health vaccine clinic in Abbotsford, B.C., after her two young children Mina and Enez got immunized Tuesday. “It’s felt like an important part of keeping our communities safe.”

Her kids are just two of the more than 200,000 children now eligible for their first of two shots.

Only the Spikevax mRNA vaccine, produced by the pharmaceutical firm Moderna, has been approved by Health Canada for children under five.

The dosage allowed for this age group is a quarter of what people over 12 receive, and it is the first of two jabs that experts recommend, four weeks apart.

B.C.’s provincial health officer said the vaccine has been proven safe for children, and that her team has followed their safety data closely before deciding to open immunizations to younger ages.

“These vaccines have been extensively tested now,” Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters at an immunization clinic Tuesday. “We know they work and we know they’re safe.”

Children ages 5-11 were approved to be immunized against COVID-19 last fall. On Tuesday, those between six months and four years old became eligible to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment in B.C. (CBC)

Health Canada’s decision two weeks ago came “after a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence,” the federal ministry said in a July 14 statement. “The benefits of this vaccine for children between six months and five years of age outweigh the potential risks.”

Experts say while COVID-19 is known to give children mild symptoms, there are exceptions, and they say it’s important to offer them protection — even if they already contracted the coronavirus during the pandemic. 

Doing so not only protects them, but also others who are vulnerable to the virus, explained Marie Tarrant, a University of British Columbia nursing professor and expert in infant and maternal health, including vaccinations.

“It is a mild disease in most children, but not all children,” she said. “And there are a lot of children who end up in the hospital with COVID.”

But reactions among parents appear to have been mixed.

A vaccine dose half of what adults get was approved for children between five and 11 last November.

Since then, 46 per cent of B.C.’s children in those ages have had both recommended doses — the lowest immunization rate among all age groups in the province, according to B.C. data.

On The Coast6:42Dr. Brian Conway on COVID-19 vaccines being made available for children under 5

Children under 5 can get vaccinated against Covid-19 as of today. We hear from an Dr. Brian Conway, Medical Director of Vancouver Infectious Disease Centre.

Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, said the newly approved age group has been carefully studied without significant side effects.

But while the risk of severe COVID-19 illness is low for infants, it’s “not zero,” he said.

“In most cases they do not get very sick,” he told CBC’s On the Coast on Tuesday. “The risk of long COVID is probably the thing I’m most concerned about.

“So if you’re two or three years old, it would be a long process and we would want to avoid that.”

Conway said the next few weeks are particularly important for children of all ages, since many return to daycare or school early next month.

For those who choose to vaccinate their younger children, parents and guardians can register and book online, the province said. The government’s Get Vaccinated website also offers information and frequently asked questions.

“As a parent or guardian, you want what’s best for your child,” the government said in a Facebook post Tuesday. “If you need more specific or detailed information or have questions, consult a health-care provider.”

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