A child gets a bandage after receiving her first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Beaumont Health offices in Southfield, Michigan on November 5, 2021 ( AFP / Jeff Kowalsky)

Doctor promotes misinformation about child Covid vaccination in Canada

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In an interview spreading online, a doctor tells parents to resist vaccinating their children against Covid-19, warning of impending mandates and deadly outcomes for those who receive the shot. But Canadian public health agencies and pediatricians say the jab is safe for minors -- and it is not on the routine vaccine schedule or mandated in any province.

"We've seen far too many deaths of children to have this be acceptable," says American cardiologist Peter McCullough in a reel he posted April 9, 2023 on Instagram. "The parents need to at this point in time stop -- absolutely no more shots in children whatsoever."

The video is an excerpt from an hour-long interview that McCullough gave to a Canadian blogger. The shorter clip spread on Twitter and Instagram, where it received more than 52,000 views on McCullough's account alone.

In the video, McCullough -- whom AFP has previously fact-checked for spreading misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines -- claims Covid-19 shots are not only deadly and unnecessary, but that immunization for children could be forced on parents.

"If it is required to go to school then the parents need to find another educational option at this point, otherwise they could lose their children," McCullough says in the clip.

Screenshot of tweet taken April 21, 2023

Blogger Monique MacKay, who uses variations of the names "Independent Journalism" or Monique Leal on social media and video-sharing sites, appeals to Canadian parents with posts on vaccination for children, often claiming Covid-19 vaccines are deadly.

However, public health agencies, infectious disease experts and pediatricians say vaccination remains one of the most effective ways to protect against serious illness, hospitalization and death due to Covid-19.

"Only vaccines that meet the safety, effectiveness and quality standards of Health Canada are approved for use in Canada," Mark Johnson, a spokesman for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), said in an April 24 email. "Covid vaccines are tested during their development according to international standards and then carefully reviewed by Health Canada."

According to Johnson and PHAC data (archived here), of the more than nine million doses administered to Canadian minors, there had been seven recorded deaths following vaccination as of April 24. In all those cases, there was not enough evidence to determine whether the vaccine was to blame.

"Simply because a death occurred following immunization does not mean the vaccine or vaccination caused that death," Johnson said.

No mandates for kids

In the video shared online, McCullough encourages parents to pull their children from school if the institution requires Covid-19 vaccination.

Of all the provinces and territories in Canada, only two have vaccine requirements for children to attend school: Ontario and New Brunswick (archived here and here). Neither has added Covid-19 vaccines to the list.

McCullough also encourages parents to reject any addition of the shot to the national routine inoculation schedule for children.

In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends the schedule (archived here) without mandating inoculation. As of April 28, the list did not include the Covid-19 jab.

"You offer the vaccine, which means that a parent wants it and can take it," said Caroline Quach-Thanh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Montreal.

There are benefits to vaccinating healthy children, Quach-Thanh said -- but given their relatively low risk for severe Covid-19, there is not a strong campaign to add the vaccines to the recommended inoculation schedule. The emphasis is on adult vaccination since elderly and immunocompromised people are more likely to get seriously ill.

"The only children that have been given stronger recommendation are those with underlying medical conditions and those that are immunosuppressed," Quach-Thanh said.

Parents must consent

McCullough claims in the video that some Canadian hospitals have "standing orders" where a child can be vaccinated without parental consultation when they are brought to a hospital.

Pierre-Philippe Piche-Renaud, a physician and researcher at the Division of Infectious Diseases at SickKids Hospital, said he has never seen such an order. Pediatric hospitals are not required to provide Covid-19 vaccines, he said.

"It's certainly not something that would be broadly done to all children who come to the pediatric hospital," said Piche-Renaud, who is also a member of the Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Laura Sauve, chair of the Canadian Pediatric Society's Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee, also said she has not seen any standing orders to vaccinate hospital patients. She added that children do not receive medical procedures without parental consent.

"When I encounter patients who have not had a vaccine, I will have a conversation with them about the vaccine and what the benefit might be to them to be vaccinated," Sauve said. "But ultimately, it's up to the parents to make that decision."

Adverse events

During the interview, McCullough warned parents to stay vigilant for possible side effects following vaccination.

Myocarditis and pericarditis, inflammation of the heart muscles or the tissues around the heart, have been observed in rare cases following vaccination with the messenger RNA Covid-19 shots. But the conditions have also been the subject of ample misinformation.

Quach-Thanh said the symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis are not deadly or long-lasting, with patients returning to normal activity in less than a year. In general, the vaccine is well-tolerated in children and adolescents, she said.

"Yes, you can have a little bit of fever and you're gonna have arm pain -- that's just part of the vaccine response," Quach-Thanh said.

Despite the low risk of severe Covid-19 for children, Quach-Thanh said it is still worthwhile for them to be immunized.

"The thing that we don't understand very well yet is long Covid, which seems to happen in children less so than in the adult population, but it's not zero either," she said. "You do have some complications and long-term consequences that you can't completely overlook."

Doctors have also identified rare cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children following Covid-19 infection. All of the cases required hospitalization, with more than a third needing intensive care.

More of AFP's reporting on misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic can be found here.

May 1, 2023 This article was updated to add Pierre-Philippe Piche-Renaud's membership in the Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health in paragraph 19.