The Alberta government’s decision to eliminate COVID-19 testing has pediatricians extremely worried about the health of the province’s children when they return to school in a few weeks.
In a letter sent Monday to Premier Jason Kenney, the Alberta Medical Association’s (AMA) Section of Pediatrics urges Kenney to delay the removal of monitoring measures until 85 per cent of Albertans have been immunized, or until the COVID-19 pandemic has reached the less volatile endemic stage.
“Over 1.5 million Albertans remain unvaccinated and over half a million children under 12 are still ineligible for the vaccine,” says the letter, signed by 13 doctors representing the section’s executive.
“As we near the start of the school year, a lack of mitigation and monitoring measures will result in a situation where the fourth wave will cause COVID-19 to spread quickly throughout unvaccinated populations and children.”
According to Alberta government statistics, about 76 per cent of the eligible population — that is, those over age 12 — have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, less than 65 per cent of the entire population — including children — have done so, a full 20 per cent less than the mark suggested by the doctors.
As of Aug. 16, a swath of changes come into effect as the Alberta government backs away from the enforceable restrictions that have been in place for most of the pandemic. Among these, isolation following a positive test will be recommended but not required by law and testing will only be done as required for patient-care decisions.
The doctors say in their letter to Kenney that these decisions, in combination with an end to mandatory masking and the contagious nature of the delta variant, will leave children at risk to COVID-19 complications.
“There are lessons to be learned from other jurisdictions, such as Florida and Louisiana, who have also abandoned their protective measures and as a result are now seeing rapid increases in pediatric hospitalizations,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta and co-signatory of the letter.
“As we near the start of the school year, the relaxed public health measures will result in a fourth wave where COVID-19 will spread quickly throughout unvaccinated populations and children.”
The AMA’s pediatrics section represents more than 300 AMA members.
Last week, the Alberta College of Family Physicians said it was not consulted and had no prior knowledge about the province’s new protocols on testing, isolation and contact tracing.
The Canadian Paediatric Society has also raised concerns.