Children five and under in Ontario should be vaccinated against COVID−19 and influenza before the holiday season amid surging hospital admissions, infectious disease experts are warning.
In a joint statement earlier this week, experts from four of the province’s pediatric hospitals said vaccinations are a critical tool to help mitigate the effects of a viral season that could prove longer and more severe than years past.
“In the current context of increased circulation of respiratory viruses such as SARS−CoV−2, influenza and RSV, optimizing the uptake of both COVID−19 and influenza vaccines in children is of crucial importance, especially before the winter and holiday season,” said the statement from the Hospital for Sick Children, CHEO, the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre and McMaster Children’s Hospital.
Data released by Public Health Ontario shows that as of Nov. 6, only seven per cent of Ontario children aged six months to five years had received a first dose of a COVID−19 vaccine and as few as two per cent were fully vaccinated.
The experts said that’s particularly concerning because children aged four and under have a higher risk for hospitalization from COVID−19 than any other group of kids and teens.
The province has not yet released data on uptake for the influenza shot this season.
Several Ontario pediatric hospitals have recently announced they would cut back on surgeries and deploy staff to help backstop overburdened intensive care units and emergency rooms.
Hospital admissions are surging under a triple threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID−19, when the healthcare system was already grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.