MONTREAL -- The PfizerBioNTech vaccine for kids may now be approved, but only about 60 per cent of Quebec parents plan to get the shot for their five-to-11-year-olds, according to provincial data.

The numbers, which were published on Tuesday, are worrying, at least for those who were looking forward to a full easing of public health rules.

Premier François Legault has said that Quebec’s COVID-19 rules will be relaxed back to a pre-pandemic level once most kids ages five to 11 were vaccinated. He gave a benchmark of 80 per cent.

But the survey results show that nowhere near 80 per cent of Quebec parents are ready to do so right now, and that some of the province’s highest overall levels of vaccine hesitancy are among parents of young kids.

As of Nov. 10, 42 per cent of parents were “completely in agreement” when asked if they planned to vaccinate their children under 12, the survey found.

Another 19 per cent were “mostly in agreement,” bringing the two groups to a combined 61 per cent.

But 21 per cent used the strongest possible wording to say they weren’t planning to do so, saying they were “totally in disagreement,” while another seven per cent said they were “mostly in disagreement.”

Finally, 11 per cent said they weren’t sure yet.

TOP REASON WAS LACK OF WORRY OVER KIDS' HEALTH

The provincial survey also explores why some parents are unwilling to get their kids vaccinated. The top reason given was “I don’t see the point because the health risks to my child are low.”

Of the vaccine-hesitant parents of five-to-11-year-olds, 43 per cent said this was their principal reason.

The next-highest reason was “I have fears about possible side effects,” with 27 per cent picking this as their top worry, followed by “I have fears because it’s a new vaccine," with nine per cent saying that was the principal reason for their hesitation.

All numbers come from an ongoing weekly survey given by the province’s public health institute, the INSPQ, since July 1.

It’s been surveying 3,300 Quebec adults per week to create an ongoing portrait of attitudes toward vaccination.

The results are weighted for factors like age, sex, region and level of education to make sure the results are representative of the province, though the online survey relies on some self-selection of respondents, rather than random selection, the most statistically stringent kind of polling, with a lower margin of error.

Health authorities appear to have ramped up their surveying ahead of the kids’ vaccine approval, with some parents in Montreal reporting getting asked by their local health districts, via their kids’ schools, what their plans are.

This is partly to help predict demand at the kids’ vaccine clinics. One parent in the Montreal neighbourhood of Rosemont, for example, reported receiving this kind of questionnaire with a deadline of Nov. 18 to respond.

The province said earlier this fall it would be ready to get kids’ shots up and running about a week after Health Canada gave the green light, assuming the supply was ready.

On Friday, Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province will be ready "in the coming days" to make an announcement about when the kids' rollout will begin.

But he can already tell parents that they'll have two options, he said: they'll be able to accompany their children to a clinic to get the shot, if they want, or they'll will be able to sign their kids up for at-school vaccinations.

Dubé also said that he doesn't see the province creating any kind of vax passports for kids, the same way adults have.

PUBLIC HEALTH HAS TWO MESSAGES FOR PARENTS

In the provincial numbers, there was also a strong correlation between vaccine hesitancy overall and people who have young kids at home—perhaps not surprising, since it’s been well documented that younger Quebecers of childbearing age, in their 20s through 40s, have been less likely to get vaccinated themselves than older generations have been.

The survey showed, for example, that a full 24 per cent of Quebecers who live with minor children are vaccine-hesitant, compared to just 11 per cent who don’t live with children.

As it speaks to parents, Montreal Public Health is planning to focus on reminding them that there are, in fact, some serious health risks to their kids if they catch COVID-19, even though their risk of hospitalization is very low.

“The five-to-11 kids are usually not that sick, but some of them can get this systemic inflammation disorder,” said Dr. Paul Le Guerrier, who has been in charge of Montreal’s vaccination outreach effort since last year.

There haven’t been any COVID-19 deaths in that five-to-11 age group in Montreal, said Le Guerrier. But the longer-term effects of catching the virus can be serious and, doctors say, far outweigh any risks of getting the vaccine.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome is the rare side effect in children that has been documented since the beginning of the pandemic, leading to severe inflammation of organs and tissues, including the lungs, heart, brain, skin and eyes.

It’s still not well understood and can progress to the point of being life-threatening, though most kids do recover with medical care.

When it comes to the vaccine, some parents are afraid their kids will get myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, or a similar inflammation of the lining around the heart, after getting the shot—a rare side effect that has appeared mostly in young adult males over the age of 16.

Health authorities have taken steps to lower that risk by tweaking the vaccine regime for this group.

The risks of similar health issues from actually getting COVID-19 are still much higher, said Montreal pediatrician, Dr. Earl Rubin, told CTV News.

“COVID-19 can affect every organ system, and there’s much higher likelihood of having adverse reactions to having the illness than to the vaccine, like many, many, many, many, manyfold higher,” he said.

Getting kids vaccinated will also help protect those around them from breakthrough infections, especially elderly and vulnerable people whose immune systems are less able to fight the virus, even after getting vaccinated, doctors say.

Public Health is also planning to remind parents that their lives will be curtailed if their kids aren’t vaccinated, including many extra difficulties going on vacation.

“We're targeting our message to the parents, really—it's going to be easier for your life,” said Le Guerrier.

“It's going to be easier for them to go and see their grandparents. And it's going to be a lot easier if you go on a trip, like some of them are going to go south this winter… the kids are going to have to come back to Montreal and be quarantined, and they're going to miss school.” 

Are you struggling with the decision of whether to get your child vaccinated, or have you decided not to, and are interested in talking about it? Email CTV at MontrealDigitalNews@bellmedia.ca.