70% of children have experienced deterioration of their mental health over the course of the pandemic, according to a CBC report of a recent study by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Kids – and that figure is over 8 months old.
“We are overloaded in terms of mental health issues,” says Ottawa psychiatrist Michael Cheng. Kids have gotten more stressed, anxious, depressed, and suicidal during the pandemic and now they’re just to the point they’re presenting to emerg,”
It’s the lockdown: separation from friends and relatives (grandparents are especially important to kids), no school or extra-curricular activities, parental job loss & financial insecurity, and illness and death in the family are just some of the things that have had a “profound impact” on children, says psychiatrist Daphne Korczak, one of the authors of the Sick Kids study.
There’s also a fear factor: Not just, “’Am I going to get sick?’ It’s also, ‘Am I going to transmit this to my family members?’ That’s a huge stress,” says Univ. of Toronto pediatrician Anna Banerji.
That’s the case with 7-year old Katalina Grimaldo (pictured above) who worries that she could make her immunocompromised dad sick, especially when there’s a covid outbreak at her school.
Fortunately, there’s a way out of all this: Canada and the US have just OK’d the first coronavirus vaccine for 5-11 year olds. “A return to regular activities, including school, birthday parties, sleepovers and visits with grandparents will do wonders,” says Eddsel Martinez, a Winnipeg pediatrician and member of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s public advisory committee. “All those things are extremely important for mental health. The vaccine is the way that we can get there.”
But there’s a problem: Parents on both sides of the border are reluctant to get their kids vaccinated. NPR, for example, is reporting that almost 1/3 of parents are saying No to the vaccine, and another third are taking a wait-and-see approach.
You wonder if they know that in Canada 5-11-year olds have the highest rate of covid cases – even though these kids are only 7% of the population, they’re 20% of the cases; and, in the US, covid is now one of the top 10 causes of death among children ages 5 to 11.
While most cases in kids are mild to moderate, experts emphasize they can still get serious forms of the disease. And whether their covid is mild or severe, they’re still at risk for getting (1) Long Covid, where symptoms last > 3 mos (and you’re chronically fatigued) – seen in 1-4 children out of every 100 (2) multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), where multiple organ systems are affected – a very complex illness, and (3) crucially, there isn’t a way to figure out ahead of time which children – healthy or unhealthy to begin with – are more at risk for one of these things.
A vaccine also lessens the risk of transmission to others.
That’s why Katalina’s mother, Diana, will ensure her daughter gets the vaccine as soon as she can, thereby protecting herself and her vulnerable father. “I think it will give her a sense of security, for sure,” says Diana.