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B.C. starts COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 to 11 next week, up to 350,000 eligible

VICTORIA — Children in British Columbia between five and 11 years old are eligible to start receiving a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine starting next week.
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VICTORIA — Children in British Columbia between five and 11 years old are eligible to start receiving a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine starting next week.

About 350,000 children are eligible to receive the Health Canada-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday. 

Immunization clinics for children across B.C. will start administering the pediatric vaccine on Monday, she said.

"We have some light we are going to talk about today in being able to protect younger children now against COVID-19," Henry told a news conference.

COVID-19 data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control from Nov. 16 to 22 shows disease cases among children between five and 11 years old are starting to decrease, with the number now falling below 500 for the week and no children sent to hospital, she said.

The arrival of the pediatric vaccine will protect more children and families, Henry said.

Health Canada approved the pediatric Pfizer vaccine for use in Canada after an independent scientific review confirmed the first vaccine formulated for younger children is safe and works, said Henry. 

"This rigorous and independent review really can give us confidence that, as it's approved by Health Canada, it is safe for use and we can trust that in our children," she said.

Henry said the same vaccine has been administered to more than three million children in the United States and there have been no "safety signals" as a result.

The vaccine will help children and families safely return to activities that benefit physical and mental health and reduce the risk of transmission to the close contacts of children, she said.

More than 90,000 children have already been registered for vaccine appointments and families can expect to receive notifications starting Monday of where they can take their children for the vaccine, said Dr. Penny Ballem, the executive lead for B.C.'s immunization efforts.

"This is like a major step forward now in continuing the journey of getting our communities back to as close to normal as will be following the pandemic," she said.

Ballem said she expected the children's immunization effort, which will include two vaccine doses, to conclude by the end of January.

Children must be at least five years old to receive the vaccine and children who turn 12 years old after receiving their first dose at 11 years old will receive an adult dose as their second shot, she said.

Health-care providers trained and experienced in administering childhood vaccines for measles, mumps and the flu will be staffing clinics across B.C., said Ballem, adding that some schools will be used for clinics during after hours.

She said recent data indicates most parents support getting vaccines for children, but there are holdouts. Ballem said government data indicates 58 per cent of B.C. parents will register to vaccinate their children, while 18 per cent say they will consider the child vaccine, but 14 per cent say they are "not sure at all."

Verbal consent from a parent or legal guardian is required at the time of the child's vaccination, said Ballem.

B.C. reported 324 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one additional death.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press