The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought with it fear and uncertainty. In particular, many parents want to know when there will be a COVID-19 vaccine and in the meantime, what to do about routine childhood vaccinations during the pandemic.
UNICEF is here to provide answers to your most pressing questions about managing vaccinations during COVID-19.
When will the vaccine for COVID-19 be available?
Developing a safe and effective vaccine takes time, but thanks to the unprecedented investment in research and development and global cooperation, scientists have been able to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 in record time, while still maintaining robust, evidence-based and rigorous regulatory standards.
On 31 December 2020, WHO listed the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine (BNT162b2) for emergency use, making it the first to receive emergency validation from WHO since the outbreak began a year earlier. On 15 February 2021, WHO listed two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine. On 12 March 2021, WHO listed the COVID-19 vaccine Ad26.COV2.S, developed by Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). There are currently more than 200 additional vaccine candidates under development, with many in clinical trials. A number of these vaccine candidates are in Phase III clinical trials – the final step before a vaccine is approved.
Should my child still get routine vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic?
While COVID-19 is disrupting our daily lives, the short answer is yes, do try to get your child vaccinated where services are available. It is important that children and babies keep their vaccinations up to date because they protect them from serious diseases. It means that when your children can return to interacting with other children, they’ll have protection from some other diseases too.
If you are unsure of whether or not your immunization service is still running as usual, please check with your health care provider. Because the COVID-19 situation is changing every day, you might find your health care providers will be adjusting their way of providing care as things change. If you cannot get to a clinic when your child’s next vaccinations are due, make a note somewhere to try again as soon as the services resume.
What do you think we can learn from this outbreak? What can it teach us about other diseases and the decision to vaccinate?
This outbreak reminds us of how valuable vaccines are. It shows us that when there is a vaccine available for a disease, we should keep our children and ourselves up to date with that vaccination. Without the protection of vaccines, diseases can spread quickly and with terrible consequences. For example, measles and other diseases remain a constant risk. We are very fortunate to have the protection of vaccines against these diseases.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines help train our immune system to fight infections by introducing an inactivated form of a germ (bacteria or virus) into the body. Since it is inactivated, it cannot make us sick. However, it triggers our body’s immune system to produce defences called antibodies. Then, if you ever catch the germ, your body’s immune system will already know how to fight it.
Where can I find the latest guidance on vaccinations?
Contact your health care provider, check the Government of Canada website, and/or the website for your provincial health ministry.
How can I protect myself and others from COVID-19?
Some of the precautions you and your family can take to help avoid infection include:
- Washing your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
- If you sneeze or cough, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or a tissue. Dispose of used tissue immediately.
- Avoid crowded places and close contact with people. Keep a safe distance from anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms.
- Avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing people. Avoid sharing food, utensils, cups and towels.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched a lot, including phones, doorknobs, light switches, remote controls and countertops.
- Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with a slight fever and cough.
- Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing or taking care of someone who is suspected to have COVID-19. Healthcare workers should wear medical masks.
How can I protect my baby from COVID-19?
In addition to all of the advice already given to parents about hand washing, physical distancing and maintaining hygiene practices, they should take extra care to protect infants from infection. Use antibacterial wipes if available to wipe down countertops and diaper-changing surfaces once a day.
Try to ensure young children have the same caregivers to reduce the number of people they come into contact with. Those caregivers should be encouraged to wash their hands regularly, avoid sharing things that go in mouths such as cups and stay away if they feel at all sick.
What should I do if my child is showing symptoms of COVID-19? Is it safe to take her to the doctor?
If your child has a sore throat, a cough or a fever, call your doctor or health service for advice before bringing them in. They may have a special arrangement at the clinic to minimise spread of infection to others. If your child has more serious symptoms, like shortness of breath or seems unusually sick, call the emergency number or take them to the nearest emergency department.
Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or may have no symptoms at all. But it’s important to protect the elderly and others more vulnerable to serious infections. So keep your child at home if you think they have been exposed to COVID-19 or have it, but make sure to call their doctor or a health worker for advice.
As with other respiratory infections like the flu, seek care early if you or your child are having symptoms. Try to avoid going to public places (like a workplace, schools, or public transport), and don’t be in contact with the elderly or immunocompromised family members. If you live with an elderly person as well, it is recommended to separate the generations in the household.
Should I get my child tested for COVID-19?
You don’t need to have your child tested if he or she is healthy and not showing any symptoms (such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing). Do also make sure to take all key steps to protect your family against COVID-19.