Alberta premier downplays COVID-19's effect on children

In his first appearance in more than three weeks, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told a Facebook live audience he has greater concerns than COVID-19 when considering children’s health.

“To put it in perspective, a couple of years back, and I think this is a fairly average number, we lost 32 minors, teenagers and children in car accidents, and of course, many more severely injured versus zero COVID deaths for those younger people,” said Kenney

While Kenney is correct that no children have died of COVID in the province, 120 kids 11 years old and under have been hospitalized in Alberta since early May. Ten of those had to be admitted to the ICU.

The premier’s also more concerned increased childhood obesity as a result of lockdowns and influenza than COVID.

“Sadly, children have been affected severely (by COVID) including including (sic) deaths, but at a much lower level than the ordinary seasonal flu.”

Dr. Shazma Mithani, an emergency room physician, who works in paediatric emergency rooms, accuses the premier of playing a ‘numbers game’ with his statistics.

“In terms of COVID-19, and kids, I mean, again, Delta is different, but also influenza, it has a vaccine that you can have as young as six months old, and our kids don't have access to the COVID-19 vaccine right now, because it's just not studied enough. And so we're kind of really comparing apples and oranges here.”

Mithani says as children province-wide return to school without any comprehensive provincial restrictions, many children will become seriously ill as the Delta variant gains inertia.

“We're going to see COVID spread very rapidly throughout that population. As soon as you start getting tens of thousands of kids infected, you will see severe outcomes likely in the hundreds. And so there will be severe outcomes that we see in kids. You know, we could see children die from this.

“There are kids that are dying in the U.S. from this and, as far as I'm concerned, one child dying is one too many.”

Meanwhile, Alberta’s top doctor maintains that young people are at the lowest risk of severe outcomes.

“In the U.S., unfortunately, hospitalizations of children have started to rise most significantly in states with lower overall immunization rates,” said Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw back on Aug. 9.

“It seems most likely that the reason for the difference between these two settings is the level of adult immunization which is protective for children via reduced household and other community transmission.”

At the time, Hinshaw noted the U.K. had a vaccination rate of more than 75 per cent, while the U.S.’s is close to 60 per cent.

Alberta’s vaccination rate falls between those two countries. It’s currently sitting at 70.04 per cent of eligible Albertans having received two doses.

When children and others who cannot receive the vaccine are factored in that number drops to 59.97 per cent.

The fallout from the premier’s position on children and COVID may be political as well as medical says Mount Royal University political scientist Keith Brownsey.

“We know that in a number of jurisdictions 20 per cent of the new COVID cases are children are young people under the age of 18. It's going to have a dramatic impact on public opinion, not that it hasn't not that COVID hasn't already.

“People will, perk their ears up and they'll understand that their children are in some danger. And then all bets are off, all bets are off.”