New statistics from BC’s Ministry of Health show children in the Arrow Lakes sub-region of Interior Health are the least likely in the province to have received a vaccination against COVID-19.
The stats released last week showed only 15% of children from ages 5-11 have received their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine – the lowest rate for that age group in the province. The stats recorded vaccination levels between October 6 and 23.
That number drops even further, to 9%, for children who have received their second shot (Nisga’a, a health sub-region in northern BC, had the only lower coverage rate for the second dose for that age group, at 8%).
“The numbers are quite low for the Arrow Lakes region,” admits Dr. Sue Pollock, a physician specializing in public health for Interior Health. “They’re lower than I would like to see.”
Vaccine hesitancy in the area isn’t just for kids. The West Kootenay and Northern BC health regions also recorded the lowest uptake of vaccinations for the general population in October. The Kootenay Lake sub-region is among the lowest in the province, with 72% of the 18+ population having received their second dose of vaccine. Arrow Lakes has 76%, Nelson 78% and Trail 88%.
Older residents of the area have taken heed of the advice to get vaccinated, with numbers for people over 50 ranging from 82% in the Arrow Lakes region to 92% in Trail, not significantly lower than the rest of the province.
Dr. Pollock says part of the issue is the public health campaign for children to get vaccinated is really only getting to full steam now.
“We’re still quite early in our campaign with kids and vaccines,” she said. “We are watching the numbers across our region carefully and looking at where we can ensure we have a little more attention paid to provide support to families in terms of pediatric vaccines.”
Pollock says there are likely several reasons for the hesitancy.
“Historically, we’ve seen lower numbers in uptake of childhood vaccines [in the Arrow Lakes sub-region] compared to other regions in Interior Health. We think about it in terms of the ‘Three C’s’” she says. “Convenience is the first, how available, acceptable are vaccines.
“Complacency is the second ‘C,’ the perception that the risk is low, and vaccines aren’t necessary. The last one is Confidence – the level of trust from individuals, from families, in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.”
Pollock says IH has worked hard to make the vaccines as convenient as possible to get, holding regular clinics in the region; and reducing complacency about the virus by reminding people with winter coming, communicable diseases also are on the rise, and children can get sick and even hospitalized with COVID. As for confidence in vaccines, IH is continuing to inform the public about the safety of vaccines. It’s also developing ‘community champions,’ people in formal and informal leadership roles in the area to help promote confidence and general vaccine awareness.
But the low numbers for immunization among Arrow Lakes children don’t come as a surprise to Miranda Hughes, a retired doctor in New Denver who runs a COVID information Facebook page for the north Slocan valley. She said it shows a shift in the attitude towards vaccines.
“Culturally, we’ve switched narratives with vaccines, from parents wanting to keep their children as safe as possible by vaccinating them, to parents wanting to keep their children as safe as possible by avoiding the (vastly overblown) risks of vaccines,” Hughes told the Valley Voice. “With severe COVID being very unusual amongst young children, and recent variants showing little difference in transmission amongst the vaccinated, I think it is hard to make really persuasive arguments that will convince parents who are generally vaccine-hesitant.”
Ironically, that shift has been partly caused by the success vaccines have had in protecting the bulk of the population, Hughes notes. “I think vaccination has been a huge success amongst adults and the fact that we can have outbreaks tearing through our community with little in the way of serious health repercussions is down to that,” she says. “At this point, the bigger payoff would probably be in focusing more on people staying home when sick, masking liberally in indoor congregated environments, and in improving ventilation in places where people gather. These things will have the effect of also reducing flu, RSV and norovirus transmission.”
While Pollock agrees masking and other strategies can help prevent transmission, she’s still strongly recommending parents get their children protected against COVID-19, the flu, and other transmissible diseases as the winter flu season begins.
“Parents may be more comfortable with the flu vaccine. It’s been around longer,” she says. “So if parents are coming in to get their child vaccinated for the flu, that’s a good opportunity for parents to ask about the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We can always do more,” she admits. “So we’re going to continue to make sure we have good accessibility to the vaccine, and ensure we have resources for our local health care providers to be able to answer questions parents have.
“There’s been a lot of research done on vaccines, and we know they are safe and effective. Many, many children have received them without adverse side effects, and I would encourage parents to reach out to those they trust in their communities and ask questions.
“Go to the Interior Health website, talk to your local health care provider, and know we’re not through the pandemic yet and vaccinations continue to be the best tool we have for preventing COVID-19 infection.”
Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries
A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.
Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.
It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.
Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.
Older adults amongst the most susceptible to RSV
TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The risk of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV, typically flies under the radar when it comes to older adults.
With 10 times the amount of older adults being hospitalized for RSV than in previous years, understanding the risk is important for those who are more susceptible.
“RSV in older adults starts out with the same symptoms as younger adults. With common cold-like symptoms- nasal congestion, sniffles, low-grade temperature, sore throat, dry cough, tiredness. These symptoms will last for a few days,” Mary Derby, Nurse Manager at Pima County Health Department explained.
“However, an older adult or an adult with chronic medical conditions such as heart and lung disease- they can experience more serious symptoms, such as getting a high fever, dehydration, and real difficulty breathing.”
Derby says if these symptoms lead to extreme chest pain, loss of color in the face, or struggle to breathe- seek medical attention immediately.
It is also important for those assisting an older adult to be aware of the risk imposed on those more susceptible.
“If you’re caring for older adults, please wash your hands frequently. Watch for your own symptoms and stay away if you’re experiencing symptoms. Consider wearing a mask to protect that older adult, because these older adults do need that protection… Take it seriously,” Derby emphasized.
Upward 6,000 to 10,000 older adults die each year from RSV.
As we make our way through the holidays, be sure to stay up to date with COVID-19 and Influenza vaccines, stay home if you are not feeling well, wash your hands often and for those at higher risk, wear a fitted mask around others.
AIDS day walk in North Battleford aims to `banish that stigma’
By Julia Peterson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On World AIDS Day, advocates in the Battlefords gathered to raise awareness about how the virus affects people in their community, and how people can get help and treatment, if they need it.
“HIV is completely preventable in today’s society, with all the advances in medication,” said Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre’s HIV project coordinator, Cymric Leask. “But due to a lot of intersecting factors, especially due to COVID in the past couple of years, our HIV numbers have skyrocketed.”
In 2021, more than 200 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in the province, even while testing, treatment and outreach were reduced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saskatchewan has the highest rate of new HIV infections in Canada, and has had the highest annual rate in the country for more than a decade.
The proportion of new HIV cases in rural areas is rising, too.
“Here up north, there are such large barriers to access to care,” said Leask. “We do have some great resources here in North Battleford but it’s still very hard to access the proper care for HIV.”
For example, getting started on HIV medication requires a visit with a communicable disease doctor, but there is no communicable disease doctor based in the Battlefords. Instead, that doctor visits the community only once every four months.
Another barrier Leask has found is that many people still have an outdated understanding of what HIV is, who is at risk and how treatment works.
“Especially here in rural areas, it’s stigmatized as something that only affects gay or bisexual men, men who have sex with men,” Leask said.
Today in Saskatchewan, men and women are diagnosed with HIV at almost equal rates, and two thirds of new cases are passed through injection drug use.
Treatments are much easier to manage than they used to be; some only involve taking one pill a day.
But the enduring stigma around HIV makes it harder for people to find community and support.
“People don’t talk about it,” said Jackie Kennedy, executive director of the Battlefords Indian and Metis Friendship Centre. “I think they’re afraid to. A lot of people don’t disclose that information (about their HIV status) because they are afraid to be judged.”
As more people continue to be diagnosed with HIV in Saskatchewan every year, groups and organizations in the Battlefords are working hard to make it easier for people to get testing, treatment, information and harm reduction supplies.
“We want to banish that stigma of how it used to be,” said Leask. “It’s not like that anymore.”
Julia Peterson is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with THE STARPHOENIX
The LJI program is federally funded.
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