Amid respiratory virus surge, Ontario paediatric infectious diseases experts encourage COVID-19 and flu vaccinations for children under five

Image of child receiving a vaccine

November 30, 2022

Paediatric infectious diseases experts from SickKids, CHEO, KHSC, LHSC and MCH issued the joint statement as the respiratory virus season gets an early start for young children.

Paediatric infectious diseases experts from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), CHEO, Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre and McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) have issued a joint statement in support of both COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations for children aged six months to five years. As paediatric health-care providers on the frontlines of the recent surge in respiratory viruses, the group is encouraging COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations for young children as one of the tools available to mitigate the impact of a difficult viral season.

“We are having a particularly challenging and early respiratory viral season, which is impacting young children and putting immense strain on children’s hospitals and health-care providers across the province,” says Dr. Upton Allen, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at SickKids. “It’s important that primary care providers and caregivers take advantage of every opportunity to protect little ones, which includes vaccinating them against COVID-19 and influenza. We’re strongly encouraging both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines for everyone who is eligible.”

Young children have lowest vaccination rate and highest rate of hospitalization

Although COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged six months to five years have been available since the summer, only 7.3 per cent of Ontarian children in this age group have received a first dose with as few as 2.3 per cent being fully vaccinated. In contrast, 52.5 per cent of children aged five to 11 years old have received at least one dose with this number rising to 83.4 per cent for youth aged 12 to 17 years old.

The low vaccination rates in younger children are particularly concerning as this age group is at a higher risk for hospitalization due to COVID-19. To date, there have been 1,441 children aged zero to four years old who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 in Ontario, corresponding to a rate of 202.2 hospitalizations per 100,000 children, which is higher than the rate for older children and youth. 

Data from clinical trials and various safety monitoring systems show that COVID-19 vaccine side-effects in children under five are similar to those seen with other vaccines given at this age, including irritability or crying, pain at the injection site, sleepiness and loss of appetite. To date, over 53,363 children in Ontario aged six months to five years old have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Ontario and no cases of myocarditis or pericarditis have been observed.

Additional mitigation efforts will be key as viruses of all kinds may increase in circulation

The group of experts emphasizes that efforts to mitigate the impacts of seasonal viruses on young children will be of the utmost importance as they anticipate viral circulation will continue to increase. In addition to COVID-19 vaccination, they encourage influenza vaccination for all those who are eligible, hand hygiene, masks in indoor settings and staying home when sick.

Caregivers who are interested in vaccinating their children against COVID-19 or the flu should speak with their primary care provider or local pharmacist. Caregivers can also book COVID-19 vaccinations for children online. For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine for children under five, visit SickKids’ trusted health information site, AboutKidsHealth, or speak with a SickKids clinician through the COVID-19 Vaccine Consult Service.

Respiratory virus resources for caregivers