Coronavirus: Quebec parents fear sending kids back to school, concept of ‘herd immunity’

As Quebec Premier François Legault prepares to restart the economy and get students back to schools amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the concept of developing “herd immunity” in children is making many parents fearful.

While school is cancelled across Quebec, Assunta Iasenzaniro is helping to homeschool her three kids.

Assunta suffers from asthma, but her children are all healthy.

Despite that, she won’t send her kids back to class this spring if schools reopen.

“I am nervous about my kids contracting the virus and bringing it home,” Iasenzaniro said.

“The herd immunity makes me anxious when I hear them talking about that.”

Herd immunity happens when you have enough people in the population who are immune to a virus, according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Jeff Kwong.

“You’re either immune because you had the infection already, or you’ve been vaccinated,” Kwong, said.

This week, Legault pitched the idea, saying waiting for a vaccine isn’t realistic.

Instead, the premier is promoting gradual, natural immunization for the least vulnerable, saying having more people immune makes it more difficult for the virus to spread.

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“Six weeks ago, the virus was spreading very fast, at least two for one. So it means one people infecting two, then four, then eight, then 16, then 32,” Legault said.

“So what we wanted is to stop that, to stop this too fast increase.”

Legault gave a scenario where 50 per cent of the community is immunized.

“Supposing that the factor is two, it means that then, we would have one person infecting one person, infecting another one person. So, then, the situation is under control,” the premier offered.

Quebec’s Association of pediatricians supports Legault and herd immunity.

“The vast majority of them won’t be sick, so at one point, it’s good to have a good portion of the pediatric population who get the disease,” said Marc Lebel, the president of Quebec’s Association of Pediatricians (APQ).

According to Montreal’s public health department, only two per cent of Quebec’s COVID-19 patients are children. Only those with other health conditions got seriously ill.

Dr. Lebel added that the current confinement situation is more damaging for children than the virus, as too much screen time and social isolation can create depression and anxiety.

Dr. Lebel added several hundred thousand children across the country rely on school meals for food and children with developmental problems need help.

“Since the time of confinement, I think we have collateral damages, that is not normal for them to be in the home all the time not to go outside not to play,” Dr. Lebel explained.

But some experts question attempting herd immunity with children.

According to Dr. Christos Karatzios, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MUHC), early studies indicate not only are young children not getting sick from COVID-19, they also aren’t passing it on.

“It will happen in a population that is transmitting the virus, so that is teenagers and adults.”

— With files from Global’s Hannah Jackson

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