Cape Breton Post

Pandemic far from over for children


OTTAWA — There will be no two-dose or even onedose summer for close to five million Canadians — children under the age of 12 who do not yet qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Advocates, who have long complained that children have been afterthoug­hts during the pandemic, say it is crucial they not be forgotten now, especially with so many unable to be vaccinated and the highly contagious Delta variant on the rise.

“The pandemic is far from over for children and youth in Canada,” said Emily Gruenwoldt, president and CEO of Children’s Healthcare Canada.

Health Canada approved the Pfizer-biontech COVID19 vaccine for children and youth 12 and older early in June. But approval for younger children is unlikely to come until at least mid to late fall.

Gruenwoldt and others, including CHEO infectious disease specialist Dr. Anne Pham-huy, say they were disappoint­ed Ontario schools didn’t reopen in June and it is critical that they open to inperson learning in September. But public health measures — including proper ventilatio­n, cohorting, small class sizes and rapid tests — must be in place. Work is underway in Ottawa and elsewhere to improve air quality in some schools, but more should be done, say health experts and others.

“My fear is that all these tools are not put into place by the September academic year,” said Pham-huy, noting that Ontario children were out of school longer than others across the country.

Vaccinatio­ns may be the most important tool in the fight against COVID-19, said Pham-huy, but they are far from the only one. The fact that younger children aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet makes it even more important that people around them are, say experts. That includes parents, teachers and school staff.

Dr. Peter Juni, who is the scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said there will likely continue to be outbreaks in pockets of the population that are under-vaccinated, even as overall vaccinatio­n levels rise.

A recent outbreak in the northern First Nations community of Kashechewa­n, where a high percentage of adults are vaccinated, illustrate­d that. Israel, which has among the highest vaccinatio­n rates in the world, has also seen outbreaks in recent weeks among school children.

While children are not generally at as high risk from the virus as older adults, up to five per cent who become infected can go on to develop long COVID, with debilitati­ng symptoms. Between one in 1,000 and one in 3,000 can also suffer from a rare inflammato­ry syndrome that, in severe cases, can cause heart and other organ damage. And children with complex health issues are more vulnerable.

Juni said more must be done to prevent transmissi­on in the community as more restrictio­ns are loosened.

He would like to see vaccine passports in Ontario, something the science advisory table is currently discussing. That, he said, will help society return to a kind of normal, albeit with some restrictio­ns remaining in place, as well as helping to protect children.

Outside space, he said, should be able to look “near completely normal” if case counts continue to drop. But passports proving that people are fully vaccinated are needed to safely reopen the economy, including allowing people indoors in bars.

Juni said the science advisory table is working on several briefs related to children, including an opening framework for schools.

Gruenwoldt said the gradual reopening of society is leaving parents of children across Canada with plenty of questions. As of July 11, for example, Saskatchew­an is eliminatin­g all public health restrictio­ns related to COVID-19.

 ?? POSTMEDIA NEWS ?? Students at the Ottawa-carleton District School Board headed outside for a math activity that would normally be done in the classroom.
POSTMEDIA NEWS Students at the Ottawa-carleton District School Board headed outside for a math activity that would normally be done in the classroom.

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