As an infectious disease expert, pediatrician, public health virologist and a father of two children aged 14 and 11, I’ve been uniquely positioned to offer advice over the past year as the new COVID vaccine was introduced in Manitoba.
In my practice as a pediatrician I’m used to explaining the need for regular immunizations for diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, diphtheria, and measles. Today, many parents I talk to don’t even know what these diseases are because they’re so rare. That’s amazing to me because only 100 years ago these were all diseases that children were regularly exposed to, and resulted in severe illness and even death for thousands of Canadian children. Today, these diseases are under control, and we have the luxury of collectively ‘forgetting’ about them, because our vaccination programs have been so effective in reducing and eliminating them from our everyday lives.
Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination is at the top of everyone’s mind! Most people actually feel quite confident about the safety of regular immunizations for their children, as they had those same vaccinations when they were children themselves. With COVID though, there’s more questions. And that’s understandable, parents want to be reassured, and knowledgeable about the safety of the COVID vaccine. And every parent wants what’s best for their kids.
Parents frequently ask questions about the speed with which the COVID vaccine was developed and whether the vaccine will change the genetics of their children. I regularly reassure parents, along with my own friends and family, that the COVID vaccine is safe and that it cannot change your children’s genes. I know that the critical tests required for any vaccine were conducted for the COVID vaccines and they have been found to be safe. Pfizer, and recently Moderna, were approved by Health Canada for children aged 12 to 17. For young children under 12, as a group their physiology is quite different and it’s important that additional time is taken for tests and studies to be completed to ensure the proper dosage is found and that side effects are minimal. The COVID vaccine is probably one of the most studied vaccines we’ve ever had. I also remind parents that I’m vaccinated, and those eligible within my family are as well. I think it says something too, that 99% of Manitoba’s doctors are immunized.
My 14 year-old daughter was quite excited to get her vaccine. She had a really genuine sense of community when she talked about getting vaccinated. She wanted to feel comfortable interacting with her grandparents, and her aunts and uncles (who also are all fully vaccinated). It’s so true that while youth don’t tend to be as seriously affected by the disease themselves, they can transmit the disease to others who are at risk and I’m proud that my daughter was thinking about the safety of others when she got her vaccine. Having our youth and children immunized is an important step in achieving herd immunity for our community.
I’m hopeful that COVID, like pertussis, rubella and the measles, will become a far less serious disease thanks to vaccination. I’d love for us to have the luxury of forgetting about COVID, like other seldom-seen diseases, though I also realize we will have to learn to live with this disease. And so, as we’re returning to school, and parents are provided with information about in-school immunization programs (which were delayed due to COVID), that we ensure we’re getting accurate information, so we can make the best choices for our children.
Dr. Jared Bullard is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Manitoba who works primarily out of the Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg. Dr. Bullard is also an Associate Medical Director at the Cadham Provincial Lab in Winnipeg, Manitoba.