By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Health Canada has approved COVID-19 vaccination for children aged 5-11 following months of speculation about when the rollout to this age range would occur.
Despite the approval, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) used language in their recommendation, stating that children in that age ‘may’ receive the Pfizer vaccine, not that they ‘should’, which has some parents unsure on whether or not they should proceed.
“NACI makes two types of recommendations under technical advice. Strong recommendations and discretionary recommendations,” explained an NACI document. “A strong recommendation uses the word ‘should’ be offered, while a discretionary recommendation uses the word ‘may’ be offered. A strong recommendation is one that applies to most individuals in the population unless a compelling alternative is available; a discretionary recommendation means that the vaccine may be considered for individuals in the population, but the decision should be made considering factors such as individual factors or risks.”
Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Matt Strauss commented on the wording in a media briefing on November 22, noting “that different sorts of things” factor in for different families when deciding on vaccination.
“To me, it’s a clear statement. It means that individual risks, individual children, and families will have to consider what their values are, what the risks are, and what the benefits are. If that’s not immediately clear to them, they should discuss it with a health care provider they trust,” said Strauss. “I cannot make a blanket recommendation for children I’ve never met.”
COVID Vaccine Team Lead Sarah Page touched on how the local health unit is preparing for the influx of school-aged patients: “We’re providing some additional sites that may provide some additional privacy, and some separate areas for families to come in. That may be at firehalls, schools, or more office-like locations to make a more comfortable atmosphere for the 5–11-year-olds.”
She added that parents with concerns can book an appointment at sickkids.ca, where they can get free, personalized advice from a professional: “It offers a safe, judgement-free space to ask questions, have a discussion. These are pediatric-specific health care practitioners answering the phone. If you do have medical concerns and don’t have a family doctor, you can have a consultation process with someone who can guide you through some of the pros and cons of vaccinating your children,” said Page.
Of the approximately 130,000 cases of COVID that have been documented in children younger than 12 across Canada, only two deaths have been directly linked to the virus. There are between 9,000-11,000 children in that age range throughout Haldimand-Norfolk.
Bookings for 5–11-year-olds can be made using the health unit’s booking tool at HNHU.org.
Daily case numbers quadruple over one month period
Currently, the seven-day rolling average for new cases in Haldimand-Norfolk is 11.9 new cases a day, up from 6.9 cases a day two weeks ago, and 3.4 cases a day one month ago.
As of November 22, HNHU reported 212 new cases over the previous 14-day period, with 136 active cases, 11 hospitalized, and seven residents in the ICU. Additionally, there have been eight deaths reported locally over the last two months. Of those, four were unvaccinated, and the remaining four had been previously diagnosed with a terminal condition.
Currently, there are 12 outbreaks in the area, up from three just two weeks ago. Four outbreaks are in local schools, two are attributed to a bus route, two in congregate settings, two in workplaces, and two in recreational settings. Over 50 current cases are attributed to classroom outbreaks.
“The numbers speak for themselves. There are markedly increased cases in our community,” said Strauss. “It remains the case that US states bordering Lake Erie are seeing markedly increased cases. There’s some amount of geographic or seasonal dynamic that is occurring here. As cases rise on a provincial basis, that rise is most marked in communities like ours, places that might be a little more geographically out of the way.”
He continued, “It is my belief that this is partly due to the fact that we have had fewer cases throughout the pandemic and we have a little more dry kindling for this transition to occur. Our current case numbers are comparable to where Chatham-Kent was two months ago.”
Strauss spoke with Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby for some insight on how the situation there might reflect the situation at home.
“Their cases start to go down after a period of six to eight weeks. His advice was that they pursued aggressive case and contact management. That’s what we’re going to continue to do here. Case and contact management has become challenging because of the number of cases. In many respects our public health unit is short staffed.”
To combat this shortcoming, Dr. Strauss has reached out to Ontario’s Regional Chief Associate MOH Dr. Wajid Ahmed.
That call has led to the Province offering additional teleconferencing staff to assist with the local contact tracing effort: “We are very grateful to the Province for that extra human resource support.”