Delayed and missed vaccines
It’s this uncertainty, worry and changes in behavior and habits as a result of lockdowns and their effect on routine childhood vaccination rates that Dr. MacDonald and her team will be considering … as well as vaccination rates for pregnant women and older adults. Informal analyses by public health departments across the country indicate that, for a variety of COVID-19-related reasons (primarily pandemic lockdowns), childhood vaccination rates have indeed decreased. And any decrease in childhood vaccination rates is a real cause for concern.
A June 11 National Post article reports that “Vaccination rates among children have dropped by as much as 20% in parts of Canada…” As part of their research, the National Post gathered provincial and territorial data on child and vaccination rates for the months of January to April 2020 and compared it to the same period in 2019. Manitoba and Saskatchewan were the only provinces to provide the National Post with data from 2020. A Manitoba spokesperson attributed a 60% drop in their MMR vaccine rates and a 55% drop in their DTaP vaccine rates (to children aged two to 17) last March-April, to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We do know that when the pandemic first was declared a lot of provinces had to temporarily halt or alter routine programs,” says Dr. MacDonald. “That’s what we’re looking at right now. In an effort to understand the effect of the pandemic on childhood vaccination rates, we’re collecting data from provincial and territorial public health systems. What are they all doing? What is the impact of their strategies on their vaccine rates?”
“…likely not our last pandemic …”: Strategies for success
To help guide the public health systems, Dr. MacDonald and her team will assess how routine vaccines are being provided in each province and territory during the pandemic, and in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, they’ll assess the impact of the pandemic on vaccine coverage levels. “This is likely not our last pandemic,” she adds. “We need to have proven-successful processes in place that we can roll out quickly.”
With an eye to pending COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. MacDonald’s research will “help us understand Canadians’ perceptions and intentions” about COVID-19 vaccines. As they survey a cross-section of the public and health care providers, they’ll ask survey subjects what they think of COVID-19 vaccines and whether they intend to receive the vaccine, when it becomes available.
“We’ll provide this information to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization ,” says Dr. MacDonald, as they develop recommendations for current application, and vaccination guidelines to be implemented directly at the outset of future pandemics.
“NACI has highlighted the importance of continuing infant vaccines, such as the measles and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines,” Dr. MacDonald explains. “We don’t want to come out of this pandemic and have a measles outbreak.”
Catching up on in-school vaccination clinics
While Dr. Jim Kellner, a Calgary-based pediatric infectious disease specialist sourced for the National Post article noted that most public health clinics and many pediatricians continued to administer vaccinations throughout the lockdowns, the in-school vaccination clinics were stopped.
“School vaccination programs have been hugely impacted,” agrees Dr. MacDonald. “For example, the HPV vaccine – it’s administered in the fall and spring, so this spring’s shots were missed. Many provinces and territories were able to catch up during the summer … Public health agencies contacted parents and set up appointments for vaccines. But there will definitely be catch-up required for kids at school this fall.”
It’s an insidious plot!
At the same time as many families closed ranks and were tightly sequestered within their homes and family units – particularly during the early stages of the pandemic – anti-lockdown protests and rallies soon began and social media has been a-Twitter with talk of COVID conspiracies (e.g., it’s a plot by Bill Gates to get everyone micro-chipped; it was master-minded in a Chinese lab and then distributed worldwide; it’s a mild illness being spread as a cover to the ‘real’ dangers of 5G networks; and on and on …).
In a July 26 article in The Ubyssey, author Shanzeh Chaudry (“Debunking your favourite COVID-19 conspiracy theories”) says, “According to a recent study conducted by the Carleton University School of Journalism in Ottawa, nearly 46% of Canadians believe in at least one COVID-19 conspiracy theory circulating online.”
Those who study vaccine hesitancy – defined as a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccine services – and anti-vaccination behaviors/beliefs, are taking a close look at the effect of anti-lockdown propaganda, COVID-19 conspiracy theories and an increasingly suspicious/paranoid view of society (particularly government and government agencies) on perceptions of vaccines.