Vaughan, Ont., Pediatrician Dr Saba Merchant said she has seen “significant” changes in children’s lives since the pandemic hit Ontario over a year ago. Children were sometimes unable to attend daycare, school and extracurricular activities, resulting in disruption of routines and structure. All the changes have led to social isolation, she said. Financial stress on families has led to housing and food security for children. Children from dysfunctional families have suffered from neglect and abuse. As a result of these adverse experiences, Merchant said there has been a decline in mental health, social and emotional development, cognitive development and, to some extent, delays in language development.
“I have to say that what we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said at a press briefing hosted by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) on Wednesday.
The merchant, owner and director of the Maple Kidz Clinic in Vaughan, said she has seen a “skyrocket” number of cases of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, inattention, obesity, eating disorders, obsessions and compulsions in children.
“And the list goes on,” she said.
She noted that peer interactions among children are the “building blocks” of emotional and social development and that these interactions have declined. She encouraged families to do the following:
- Form small bubbles with families and friends according to public health guidelines to allow children and adolescents to interact with each other where and whenever possible.
- If a teenager asks for more screen time to socialize, consider that request.
- Encourage group activities at school, whether online or in person, as long as it is safe.
- When you see the first signs of a deteriorating mental health in a child, call the family doctor or pediatrician. “We know that in children, intervening early leads to better results. “
- Everyone should get the vaccine.
The pandemic has had negative effects on the mental health of children and adolescents, OMA doctors said at the press conference on Wednesday. They expressed concern that the effects could last for years after the province exits the pandemic.
WATCH | Jessica Ng of CBC explains how the pandemic is negatively affecting children in Ontario:
Dr Daniel Rosenfield, a specialist in pediatric emergency medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, said the hospital’s emergency department had seen a 25% increase in suicidal ideation or attempted suicide in 2020, compared to 2019.
“I know other places across the country have seen the same thing,” he said.
Rosenfield said the number of emergency visits had dropped significantly since the start of the pandemic, but the number of injuries, poisonings and ingestions had not declined last year.
The majority of injuries, including cycling and sledding accidents, were of a minor nature. For example, there were 300 bicycle injuries in children that involved emergency visits in 2019, while there were over 700 in 2020.
When teens ingest things such as prescription drugs or household products, it is usually intentional and could be a sign of boredom and experimentation, and sometimes indicate a suicide attempt. When toddlers ingest such things, it’s usually not intentional, he said.
Dr Vicky Fera, an infectious disease specialist at Markham Stouffville Hospital and a doctor in the emergency department at the Hospital for Sick Children, said she hopes some children can get vaccinated before the next school year in September. Children are not yet eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Canada.
Fera said preliminary data from Pfizer-BioNTech’s clinical trial in children aged 12 to 15 suggested high efficacy in this age group. Another Pfizer trial in people aged six months to 12 years is currently in the recruitment phase. The goal is to get data by the end of 2021 and to start vaccinating in early 2022.
Moderna’s clinical trial in children aged 12 to 18, meanwhile, has completed its recruitment phase, she said. The goal is to get emergency approval quickly and start vaccination in the fall.
Other Moderna trials on younger children, involving three age groups, six months to two years, two to five, five to 11, have started their enrollment stages in the United States, he said. she declared.
“Both mRNA vaccines show great promise in the pediatric population,” she said.
The OMA, for its part, said the decrease in the number of children who saw a doctor in 2020 compared to 2019 is also troubling. The number fell 31%, according to Medicare billing records.
Interactions with doctors fell 39% for children four to eight years old and 24% for newborns and children three and under.
Decline in doctor visits could have long-term health effects
“Fewer Ontario parents have sought medical care for themselves and their children during the pandemic,” OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill said in a press release Wednesday.
“Children have experienced significant disruption this year, causing experts to worry about the consequences for their development and overall well-being. These new data are of concern to us, because while the decrease in the number of visits is not the result of decreased needs, it may have other long-term effects on children’s health. “
Hill said it was not immediately clear why the number of visits had declined. She said it is possible that children will have fewer illnesses and that families are postponing vaccinations and health care that are not considered urgent because they have concerns about the virus. She said the drop could contribute to a backlog of deferred and delayed health care.
In April 2020, there was a huge drop in doctor visits for adults and children, regrets the OMA. For adults, the drop was 35% from the same month in 2019, while for children, the drop was 55%. Visits resumed during the summer and started again in December.
The data comes from OHIP bills made by Ontario physicians between April 2019 and December 2020 and includes in-person and virtual visits to physicians.