The province says it expects immunization of children ages five through 11 to begin the week of Nov. 29, after Health Canada green-lit Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine Friday.
The province’s supply is scheduled to arrive by the middle of next week, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix told reporters on Friday. It’s expected to include enough COVID-19 vaccine for the estimated 360,000 children in the province in that age category.
“I think it’s very exciting news,” said Dix, noting an unvaccinated person is 50 times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of a COVID-19 infection.
Detailed information on distribution — mainly through community clinics but also through school clinics — will come early next week, said Dix. “In general, community-based clinics have been a more effective way of vaccinating children, so that will be our lead approach, but we will be exploring all of the options.”
Health Canada said in a statement that it has determined the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech child-size dose of mRNA vaccine for younger children outweigh the risks. The vaccine companies had submitted a request for approval on Oct. 18.
The vaccine is recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which says children who do not have any conditions that would make vaccination risky can receive two doses.
At 10 micrograms, the pediatric dose is about a third of the size of an adult dose.
The federal government expects to receive about 2.9 million doses, enough for every child in the country in the five to 11 age group. In a statement Friday, Pfizer said the doses would be shipped “imminently.”
Dix said delivery of the vaccine is not expected to be adversely affected by recent storm damage.
“Should we need to adapt in terms of distribution of the vaccine, we will,” he said. “That may affect us in terms of days, but we’re going to make sure the vaccine gets out and around the province.”
The province is asking parents and guardians to register their children immediately, so they receive an invitation to book when it’s their child’s turn. (Go to getvaccinated.gov.bc.ca or call 1-833-838-2323 toll-free.)
More than 75,000 children are already registered, and Dix said he expects those numbers to rise substantially this weekend.
“Health Canada took the time required to do a rigorous scientific review that showed that this vaccine is safe and effective for children, and I want to encourage parents to get vaccinated,” he said.
The health minister also advised parents of children who will turn 12 next year to get the vaccine for their kids now to gain protection against the highly transmissible Delta variant. “I don’t think it would make sense to not take advantage and wait for some months to get vaccinated in a time when COVID-19 is present in our province.”
Ninety-one per cent of 17-year-olds in the province are vaccinated, compared with 76 per cent of 12-year-olds, said Dix.
The province says it will make health experts with scientific and practical experience with immunizations available to answer questions from parents.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said while children are at a lower risk of severe disease from COVID-19, in some children it can lead to hospitalization and long-term symptoms — and they can also transmit the disease to more vulnerable family members.
Not having a vaccine available for children age 5 to 11 has had a tremendous impact on children and families, and has led to significant disruptions to important social activities and school, said Henry.
Rich Fleming said his two children, who attend South Park Elementary School, will be getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available. Fleming is hopeful the vaccine will offer a more “normal” life for daughter Eleanor, in Grade 3, and son Gus, who is in kindergarten.
Fleming said it helps to know that the United States “has already been rolling it out to a significant amount of people.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children on Oct. 29, and the U.S. has already vaccinated more than 2.5 million children.
Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association president Winona Waldron said teachers have been waiting for the vaccine approval, which they hope will reduce COVID-19 cases being seen in elementary schools.
Sooke School Board chairman Ravi Parmar said the vaccine’s approval for younger children is promising news and he’s looking forward to getting more details from the provincial health officer on how it will be rolled out, and whether schools will play a role.
Saanich School District Superintendent Dave Eberwein said he found out about the approval Friday morning but has yet to receive anything official. “We’ll start getting information over the next few days, I imagine.”
Pfizer-BioNTech says its trials in children showed safety and efficacy that was comparable to a previous Pfizer-BioNTech study in those ages 16 to 25.
The vaccine was 90.7 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 in children and no serious side-effects were identified, according to Health Canada.
The Public Health Agency of Canada plans to launch media campaigns soon to encourage parents to get the vaccine for their kids, and will be working closely with pediatricians and other health-care providers, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday.
While children are at a lower risk of severe outcomes related to COVID-19, some kids get very sick, Tam said.
Officials point to cases of multisystem inflammatory disease, long-COVID and heart inflammation associated with COVID-19 in kids as reasons to get the shot for children.
The main side-effects associated with the vaccine for children are the same as those for slightly older vaccine recipients, though they were less common in kids, aside from redness and swelling at the injection site.
Health Canada says it will require Pfizer-BioNTech to continue to report on ongoing studies and real-world use to monitor any issues related to the vaccine in children.
“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,” the statement says.
NACI suggests children wait at least 14 days before or after receiving another vaccine, such as the flu shot, to get the COVID-19 vaccine so officials can more easily identify potential side-effects.
Health Canada is still reviewing Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for children ages six to 11.
— With files from Jeff Bell and The Canadian Press