Doctors say children’s COVID-19 vaccine is a mental health booster

Diana Grimaldos keeps getting the same questions from her children.

“Is the virus gone? Is the virus gone?”

Her seven-year-old daughter, Katalina, has always been a fearful child – but it got much worse during the pandemic.

“She’s worried,” said Grimaldos, who lives in Toronto.

Katalina’s fear was particularly great during the lockdown. Although she saw her parents having their COVID-19 vaccines helped and she went back to school in person, “she’s still very scared,” her mother said.

The meteoric rise in children’s mental health problems during the pandemic is all too familiar to many parents – backed by study after study and reflected in the practices of health care providers across Canada.

The best medicine for many children, say pediatric experts, is to restore normalcy to their lives while staying safe from COVID-19 infection.

Now that Health Canada has approved Canada’s first coronavirus vaccine for children ages five to 11, many children’s parents and health care providers are seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

Diana Grimaldos, pictured with her husband Richard Ferreira, daughter Katalina and son Emiliano, says her children keep asking whether the “virus” has disappeared. (Diana Grimaldos)

“The vaccine is the way to get there”

The effects of the pandemic on children go beyond the risk of COVID-19 making them sick, said Dr. Eddsel Martinez, Winnipeg pediatrician and a member of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s Public Advisory Committee.

The public health measures that had to be taken to save lives have resulted in isolation, economic insecurity and parental stress, all of which are “terrible for mental health,” he said.

“We have seen an increase in all types of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drug use and abuse.”

Children are generally resilient, Martinez said. For many, returning to regular activities like school, birthday parties, overnight stays, and visiting grandparents will work wonders.

“All of these things are extremely important to mental health,” he said. “The vaccine is the way to get there.”

Dr. Eddsel Martinez, a Winnipeg pediatrician and a member of the Canadian Pediatric Society’s public advisory committee, says the children’s COVID vaccine will help restore the mental wellbeing of many children by returning them to normal activities. (Andrew Mahon)

Many children are also aware of the fact that they can transmit the COVID-19 infection and make a loved one sick, say both parents and doctors.

Grimaldos’ husband is immunocompromised and Katalina is concerned about making her father sick, especially if there is a COVID outbreak at her school.

Her mother tries to calm her down and “take that guilt away”.

But even at outdoor family gatherings where all adults are vaccinated, “she’s more comfortable with the mask than without,” Grimaldos said.

That’s a huge emotional burden on a child, said Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

Not only can the children’s vaccine reduce the risk of kids getting really sick, but it can also “reduce concerns about COVID and what will happen next,” Banerji said.

“‘Am I getting sick? Am I going to pass this on to my family members?” It’s a lot of stress, “she said.

“Collateral damage”

When Health Canada and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) decide whether or not to approve a vaccine, the main questions they must ask are whether the vaccine is safe, effective, and whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

In the case of COVID-19, mental health needs to be part of that discussion, said Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist in Chu Ste. Justine in Montreal.

“What you have to look at is the burden of disease. And the burden of disease includes not just the medical complications, but any collateral damage that occurs,” said Quach-Thanh, who is also the past chairman of NACI.

The recommendations published by NACI on Friday concluded that Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine was not only safe and effective in protecting children from disease, but also putting children “at risk of collateral damage from the COVID-19 pandemic.” and limited access to academic and extracurricular resources have profound implications for the mental and physical well-being of children and their families. ”

CLOCK | Health Canada approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11:

Health Canada approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11

Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is the first to be approved in Canada for use in children ages five to eleven. The federal government says there will be enough vaccine shipments to give each child a first dose. 3:36

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came to similar conclusions when they approved Pfizer’s vaccine for American children – a move approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP ) was welcomed.

“The numbers trickle in now, there [show] the COVID pandemic has really created significant psychosocial stress for children and families, “said Dr. Arwa Nasir, professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a member of the AAP.

“We now have numbers that indicate an increase in emergency rooms for mental health problems and suicide attempts,” she said.

These data confirm what pediatricians feared, Nasir said.

“We knew that the stressors associated with the pandemic came from the illness itself, the death of family members, the quarantine, the school break …”

Increase in emergency room visits

The alarming surge in mental health problems, so severe that hospitalization is required, is also happening on this side of the border, said Dr. Michael Cheng, child psychiatrist at CHEO in Ottawa (formerly Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario).

“We are overwhelmed with mental health problems,” said Cheng. “Children have become more stressed, anxious, depressed, and suicidal during the pandemic, and now they are at the point where they present themselves,” Cheng said.

Part of this is due to the disruption in health services during the pandemic, causing people to delay treatment of both physical and mental health problems and get worse, he said. The other part is an increase in the number of children suffering from mental distress.

“Our waiting lists have exploded,” said Cheng.

The good news, he said, is that when children can return to normal lives, many will recover and be fine.

“Whenever a population is under stress, most people will recover from that stress,” he said. “Hopefully 80 to 90 percent of people will manage to move on.”

A child arrives with their parents in Wheeling, Illinois Wednesday to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

In the US, children have been vaccinated against COVID-19 for a few weeks. While Nasir has provided information to many families who are reluctant to get the vaccine, they are also families with children who are “just so happy” to get the vaccine.

“This is a happy, empowering, good adjustment feeling that … can be very helpful for your mental health,” said Nasir.

“[Kids feel like] “I’m not a victim of it. I’m doing something about it … and not only contributing to my well-being, but also to the well-being of the community. ‘”

This is how Diana Grimaldos hopes her daughter will feel when she gets her vaccine soon.

“I think it will definitely make her feel safe.”

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