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As Omicron drags on, B.C. struggles to increase kids' vaccination rates

Dr. Bonnie Henry says health officials are facing down the "3 C's": complacency, convenience and confidence.
Child COVID vaccine
Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria have high rates of childhood vaccination, but the Interior and the North still lag. How can B.C. get numbers up?

British Columbia has a tough slog ahead to bring pediatric vaccination rates up across the province.

As of March 1, just 56% of five-to-11-year-olds in B.C. had received their first dose of Pfizer pediatric vaccine against COVID-19, and only 27% had received a second dose.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, addressing the issue at the province's Feb. 23 COVID-19 briefing, reiterated the message that vaccination is important for children in the face of the Omicron wave. 

"We're seeing more children need hospital care," she said, noting that's because of high case counts. "The more children are affected, the more children will have severe illness and end up in hospital."

Henry said the relatively low rates of pediatric vaccination weren't unexpected, since the data aligns with polling conducted before the pediatric vaccine was available. At the time, she said, the province heard that about half of parents would sign their children up to be vaccinated right away, while another 20% to 30% wanted to wait for more information and data before doing so.

She said that time has come.

"It is important to protect children, and now we have a lot of information about how well these vaccines work and how safe they are," she said. "It's also really important for helping to get us through these trying times for children, particularly in schools, to make it easier for them to participate fully in activities and not worry that they're bringing it home to family members who may be more vulnerable."

Regional differences across B.C.: Vancouver leads; Interior, North lag

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province is seeing a "significant difference" in vaccination levels for five-to-11-year-olds from one health authority to another.

The highest levels of vaccination are in Vancouver Coastal Health, where most areas are above the 70% mark for first doses. As of March 1, the latest B.C. Centre for Disease Control data shows the Central Coast leads the way at 85%, with Vancouver Midtown at 79%, North Vancouver at 78%, Vancouver Northeast at 74% and Vancouver Westside at 72% (see full list below).

On the flip side, the lowest rates can be found in the Interior and Northern health regions. In the Interior, pediatric vaccination rates range from a low of 21% in Arrow Lakes and 23% in Kettle Valley to a high of 57% in Trail and 58% in Kimberley. In the North, rates range from a low of 19% in Peace River North and 22% in Peace River South to a high of 54% in Haida Gwaii and 60% in Nisga'a.

The Fraser Health and Island Health regions both show mixed results, with some – particularly more urban – areas having high pediatric vaccination rates and others still lagging. In Fraser Health, New Westminster (67%) and Burnaby (66%) lead the way, with Hope (33%) and Mission (36%) at the low end. On the Island, Greater Victoria (76%), the Saanich Peninsula (75%) and the Western Communities (68%) lead the way, with Vancouver Island West (31%) and Cowichan Valley West (39%) at the bottom of the pack.

B.C. has 'intentional strategy' for kids' vaccination: Henry

Henry said the province has been following a "very intentional strategy" with regard to immunizations for children, based on information it received from parents and guardians. 

She said the most important factor for parents was ensuring that kids' vaccines could be provided by immunizers who were used to dealing with children and in settings that would make the process as "least traumatic as possible" for young people.

Henry said B.C. is working to overcome what she called the "three C's" that stand in the way of people getting children vaccinated: complacency – that is, the sense that children aren't at risk from COVID-19 – convenience and confidence.

She said health officials have addressed those aspects in different ways in different communities, but the focus has been on ensuring that people can get vaccinations in a place where they feel comfortable, with information provided in a language they feel comfortable in and in a format that answers their questions.

"We will continue to follow along with that strategy a parent, a family, a community at a time to make sure we are providing those opportunities for all young people to get vaccinated," she said.

"As we have more and more young children vaccinated and we've seen the effects that COVID is having, particularly Omicron over the last few weeks, we have more and more information to build confidence and to share it with parents."

Dix said the high rates of vaccination for adults indicate there's a "strong understanding" of the need for vaccination in B.C. and added he expects to see the pediatric vaccination rates climb accordingly.

"We strongly believe that the evidence is so strong that it makes children safer, that it makes their families safer, that it will make everyone around them safer, that we're going to continue to see those numbers go up," he said. "We're continuing to grind those numbers up slowly, and I expect that we will continue to do so and that we'll succeed in it."

Who's vaccinating their children in B.C.?

Here are the most vaccinated local health areas in British Columbia for the 5-11 age group. Numbers reflect first-dose/second-dose rates as of March 1, 2022:

  1. Central Coast: 85%/54%
  2. Vancouver Midtown: 79%/53%
  3. North Vancouver: 78%/52%
  4. Greater Victoria: 76%/48%
  5. Saanich Peninsula: 75%/46%
  6. Vancouver Northeast: 74%/42%
  7. Vancouver Westside: 72%/46%
  8. Vancouver South: 71%/36%
  9. West Vancouver/Bowen Island: 70%/42%
  10. Vancouver City Centre: 70%/42%
  11. Western Communities (Island): 68%/35%
  12. Vancouver Centre North: 67%/43%
  13. New Westminster: 67%/37%
  14. Richmond: 67%/34%

How to get your child vaccinated in B.C.

In order to be vaccinated, five-to-11-year-olds must first be registered in B.C.'s Get Vaccinated system, after which time an invitation will be sent (by text or email) to book an appointment.

You can find all the information online at B.C.'s pediatric vaccine page, or call the central vaccination line at 1-833-838-2323.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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