By Sue Tiffin
Health Canada has approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11.
In a much anticipated announcement last Friday, Pfizer’s Comirnaty became the first COVID-19 vaccine authorized in Canada for a younger age group meaning it will soon be available to 11,115 children across the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district area – 844 of those children being in Haliburton County.
The vaccine has been authorized for use in those 16 and older since December of last year, and for children aged 12 to 15 since May. The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district unit’s website notes appointments can be made beginning Nov. 23, and the first date for pediatric vaccination appointments is Nov. 29.
“This is the first COVID-19 vaccine authorized in Canada for use in this age group and marks a major milestone in Canada’s fight against COVID-19,” reads a Nov. 19 press release from Health Canada.
Health Canada received the submission of data from Pfizer-BioNTech for children aged five to 11 on Oct. 18, announcing at that time the group would review it to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective for younger age groups. Moderna also submitted data for its vaccine for the same age group last week, which is currently under review.
“After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, the department has determined that the benefits of this vaccine for children between five and 11 years of age outweigh the risks,” reads Friday’s statement from Health Canada. “Health Canada has authorized a two-dose regimen of 10 micrograms to be administered three weeks apart, which is a lower dose than the 30 micrograms two-dose regimen authorized for people 12 years of age and older. The clinical trial showed that the immune response in children five to 11 years of age was comparable to the immune response in people 16 to 25 years of age. The vaccine was 90.7 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 in children five to 11 years of age and no serious side effects were identified.”
The federal government has said more than 2.9 million pediatric doses of vaccine – about one-third the size of the adult dose – will be available as early as this week. While the two-dose regimen is authorized to be given three weeks apart, which could mean some kids could be vaccinated by Christmas, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended doses be given at least eight weeks apart for the best immune response.
The HKPRD health unit has been preparing for the possible approval of the vaccine, and reopened mass vaccine clinics throughout the region, including in Minden, last month. Dr. Natalie Bocking, medical officer of health, said it was likely there wouldn’t be a tiered system for different ages and that anyone between the ages of five to 11 would likely be able to receive their vaccine when available. She said it will be available at the vaccine clinics, as well as through some medical offices and pharmacies, but there are not yet plans for in-school vaccine clinics.
“Possible side effects can include: sore arm, swelling, redness near the injection site, tiredness, headache, achy muscles/joints, fever and chills,” reads the health unit’s page on the COVID-19 vaccine for children. “Very rare cases of myocarditis and pericarditis (heart inflammation) have been reported. The benefit of COVID-19 vaccination outweighs the very rare risk.”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, just more than 21 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada to date have been in people under the age of 19. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, more than 1,950 people under the age of 19 have been hospitalized, accounting for just more than two per cent of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Canada. Nineteen people in that age group have died.
The COVID-19 vaccine has been administered in youth in the United States since the beginning of this month. Children above six in countries including Chile, Ecuador, China and Malaysia, and children as young as two in Cuba and three in Argentina and the United Arab Emirates have been able to access different brands of vaccinations since as early as June this year.
According to Health Canada, terms and conditions have been placed requiring ongoing safety and efficacy information to be submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech.
“This will provide the department with more data from ongoing studies and real-world use to ensure that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh any risks, as well as to detect any potential new safety signals in any age group,” reads the Nov. 19 statement. “In keeping with the department’s commitment to openness and transparency, Health Canada is publishing multiple documents related to this decision, including a high-level summary of the evidence it reviewed. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will continue to closely monitor the safety of this vaccine, and will take action if any safety concerns are identified.”
Further information on how the vaccines are studied and tested, possible side effects and specific information about vaccines approved is available at https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/vaccination-children/covid-19.html. Families with children can also visit https://www.sickkids.ca/en/care-services/support-services/covid-19-vaccine-consult/ or call 437-881-3505 to book an appointment to speak to a pediatric registered nurse about questions and concerns.