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Region of Peel has lower than average childhood immunization rates

Peel Region lags behind the provincial average for immunizing children ages five to 11 – and community health professionals say it will take a concerted outreach effort to meet the goals.

The lower vaccination rate is most marked in lower-income neighborhoods in the region, a trend that has occurred in previous waves.

This re-emerging trend indicates that health disparities, a mistrust of the health system that has hurt racialized and immigrant groups, and a lack of clear public health messages affect whether residents take their children to be immunized. community leaders told The Star.

With schools set to reopen this week, the need to immunize younger eligible children has become more urgent as the Omicron variant continues to drive up the number of cases, increase in hospitalizations and intensive care admissions.

While Peel has reached the Department of Health’s target of 33% of the age group to be vaccinated by the end of December, Peel has a very diverse community, socially, culturally and economically in need of more. of confidence to be built, said Dr. Lawrence. Loh, the chief health officer for the region.

“It’s not an easy job,” he said. “We don’t have a wealthy laptop class like other communities do…

Loh also noted that Peel has a higher child population than other large areas, so it may take longer to vaccinate the five to 11 age group. According to the 2016 census, about 18% of Peel’s population was 14 and under, compared to 14.5% in Toronto.

As of Wednesday, nearly 40 percent of Peel’s children aged 5 to 11 received at least one dose, compared to about 47 percent of Ontarians in that demographic.

Although Peel achieved a high adult vaccination rate, Loh said it was difficult to convince people of the relative benefits for their children amid historical mistrust of the healthcare system.

There are marked differences when examining specific neighborhoods in Peel. The lowest vaccination rate, 21.6 percent, is the L4T postcode, encompassing the neighborhoods of Malton and Ridgewood. This region has an average household income of $ 72,000 before tax, according to the 2016 census.

In contrast, Peel’s highest childhood vaccination rate, 59 percent, is L5H in Mississauga, which covers the Lorne Park neighborhood. The average household income in the area is $ 207,787.

The beleaguered Peel healthcare system is also coming under new pressure from the influx of Omicron cases, with the Peel Memorial Center emergency care center closing for at least three weeks to divert staff to where demand is greatest. strong.

Loh said uptake has been affected by a lack of confidence in the vaccine due to mistrust of the health system that has harmed marginalized groups in the past. Parents also want confidence in the health choices for their children, and a lack of certainty can slow the pace, he said.

“And I can fully appreciate him as a father of children in this age group,” he said. “If anything, I hasten to share with our community that I had my eligible children vaccinated on the first opening night, simply because I knew how important it was that our children had access to this. protection. “

To build confidence, Peel is hosting community supplemental immunization clinics, including a Sunday afternoon at the Save Max Sports Center in Brampton, for children and their guardians. The region also hosts clinics in 25 public schools in January and February.

Community health professionals have also noticed the drop in childhood immunization rates and are trying to address this through increased awareness.

Dr Ripudaman Minhas, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and a resident of Brampton, runs an online health literacy program via Instagram and TikTok in English and Punjabi, to answer questions about the vaccine.

Its initiative called Punjabi Kid’s Health allows parents to submit questions on a variety of health topics, including COVID-19 and vaccination. Minhas said common concerns include misconceptions about side effects and not understanding the need. He said some families believed children didn’t need them, believing previous waves were less of a risk to children than adults.

“Parents feel tired of this continuing evolution of our knowledge of the vaccine and the pandemic and its biological aspects… but what is happening is a lack of clarity in the messages,” he said.

It is important to continue to engage with communities, as it can be difficult for public health organizations to anticipate what the issues and concerns might be, he said.

“It is a very different dialogue from what we had heard around the apprehensions around the vaccinations of the adults,” he said.

In Brampton, Roots Community Services, a community organization serving the needs of black residents, predicted that the five to 11-year-old age group might be more difficult to get vaccinated, said executive director Angela Carter.

Black, African and Caribbean communities have additional questions about more healthcare interventions due to historic racism in healthcare and the neglect of their communities, so it can be difficult to ask communities to come forward to vaccinate more of their family members, Carter said.

That’s why Roots is running more clinics at the end of the month and in February as well as webinars so that questions can be asked of trusted healthcare professionals about the pediatric vaccine and the booster, she said. declared.

“Anytime you have to get people to trust a system that they have been suspicious of for so long, it takes time,” she said.

“There are still a lot of questions and confusion,” she added. “They have to get the message out loud and clear.”