Millions of Canadian children could become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines within weeks, bringing hope to families amid the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Pfizer / BioNTech said in a press release Monday that its mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine is safe and provides good protection against the virus in children aged 5 to 11.
“This is important news,” said Anne Pham-Huy, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. “It definitely gives us a little more hope. “
A spokeswoman for Pfizer Canada said the company can submit an ongoing application to Health Canada, which would allow the ministry to approve the vaccine as the company continues to collect and submit new safety data and ‘efficiency.
The news comes as several provinces, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, grapple with an increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, which have pushed their health systems at the edge of the abyss. While children have generally performed much better than adults during the pandemic, they still face a low risk of serious illness and other long-term health issues from COVID-19. Experts say the continued spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant will lead to more cases and more serious outcomes in children.
While it’s difficult to predict when the vaccine will be available for the 5-11 year old age group, experts expect clearance fairly quickly given the vaccine approval process to date, and say that it could arrive as early as the end of October.
There are more than four million children under the age of 15 in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
Pfizer / BioNTech said the vaccine produced a “robust” antibody response in children aged 5 to 11, comparable to the antibody response seen in a previous trial in young people aged 16 to 25, who received a larger dose.
The two market-approved mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna, have been associated with a low but serious risk of myocarditis and pericarditis, particularly in young men.
It is not known what these risks look like in children aged 5 to 11. Pfizer / BioNTech did not release full data from the study on Monday, but said it would submit the trial to a scientific journal for publication.
Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, the inflammation of the lining outside the heart, occur in 1 in 6,000 to 1 in 15,000 people. aged 12 and over who are receiving an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, according to Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at the University Health Network in Toronto.
Despite the rare risk of side effects, experts say children should still be vaccinated because the risks from COVID-19 are much greater.
Stephen Freedman, professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, said children infected with COVID-19 are much more likely to suffer from serious illness, hospitalization or illness. other serious results compared to those induced by the vaccine. heart inflammation.
“COVID infection in children presents multiple risks,” he said.
Dr Freedman also pointed out that the risks of vaccine-induced heart inflammation appear to be much lower than those that occur as a result of viral infection.
According to Health Canada, which updated the mRNA vaccine label in June to reflect the risk, many cases of myocarditis and pericarditis are mild and require little or no treatment. Some severe cases can lead to heart damage.
Symptoms usually start within days of a second dose. Health Canada says that anyone who experiences chest pain, shortness of breath or a feeling of having a fast beating or racing heart in the days following vaccination should see a doctor.
While a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 won’t end the pandemic, it can help Canada control transmission rates and make schools much safer, Dr Bogoch said.
“In general, I think these will be safe and effective vaccines. It will really help transform the pandemic, ”he said.
Experts say authorities should plan now to roll out their vaccine and develop communication strategies to communicate with parents about the low risks of vaccine side effects.
“I think for this group the most important thing is to really ensure proper education and information to build confidence in the vaccine and to vigilantly monitor the safety of the vaccine as we deploy it,” said Dr Pham-Huy.
Pfizer / BioNTech expects results by the end of the year for two other age groups included in the study: children 2 to 5 years old; and children aged six months to two years.
On Monday, Health Canada said it had not yet received a submission from Pfizer / BioNTech to allow the vaccine for use in children aged 5 to 11.
Christina Antoniou, director of corporate affairs for Pfizer Canada, said the company has worked closely with Health Canada throughout the pandemic and will submit new data when available.
“We share the urgency to provide the data that could help support the decision of regulatory authorities to make the vaccine available to school-aged children as early as possible,” she said in an email. .
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