Millions of Canadian children could become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination within weeks, bringing a glimmer of hope to families amid a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Pfizer and BioNTech said in a press release on Monday that their mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine is safe and provides good protection against the virus in children between the ages of 5 and 11.
“This is important news,” said Anne Pham-Hue, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. “It’s definitely giving us a little bit more hope.”
A Pfizer Canada spokesperson said the company may submit a rolling submission to Health Canada, which will allow the department to approve the vaccine as the company continues to collect and submit new safety and effectiveness data.
The news comes as several provinces, particularly Alberta and Saskatchewan, are struggling with rising numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations that have pushed their health care systems to the brink. Although children have generally fared much better than adults during the pandemic, they face a small risk of serious illness and other long-term health problems associated with COVID-19. Experts say the continued spread of the highly transmissible delta variant will lead to more cases and more serious consequences in children.
While it’s difficult to predict when the vaccine will be available, experts expect authorization to come as quickly as possible given the vaccine approval process so far, and say it could be as late as October.
According to Statistics Canada, there are more than four million children under the age of 15 in Canada.
Pfizer and BioNTech said the vaccine produced a “strong” antibody response in children aged five to 11 years given a higher dose than the antibody response seen in a previous trial of 16 to 25-year-olds Was.
Both mRNA vaccines approved on the market, manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna, have been associated with a small but serious risk of myocarditis and pericarditis, particularly in young men.
It’s not clear what those risks look like in children between the ages of 5 and 11. Pfizer and BioNTech did not release full study data on Monday, but said it would submit the trial to a scientific journal for publication.
According to Isaac Bogoch, myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, inflammation of the outside lining of the heart, occur in one in 6,000 to 15,000 people aged 12 years and older, who test the mRNA for COVID-19. receive the vaccine. Infectious disease physician at the University of Toronto Health Network.
Despite the rare possibility of side effects, experts say children should still be vaccinated because the risks associated with COVID-19 are too high.
Stephen Friedman, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, said the likelihood of children infected with COVID-19 being hospitalized or having other adverse health outcomes is much higher than the risk. Vaccine-induced cardiac inflammation.
“COVID infection in children poses multiple risks,” he said.
Dr. Friedman also highlighted the fact that the chances of vaccine-induced heart inflammation seem much lower than those that result from a viral infection.
According to Health Canada, which updated the labels on mRNA vaccines in June to reflect the risks, many cases of myocarditis and pericarditis are mild and require little treatment. Heart damage can occur in some severe cases.
Symptoms usually begin within days of the second dose. Health Canada says anyone who experiences chest pain, shortness of breath, or feelings of rapid heartbeat or flutter within days of vaccination should seek medical attention.
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at the University of Toronto’s Health Network, said that while a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 will not bring an end to the pandemic, it will help Canada control rates of transmission and make schools safer. Can do. .
“In general, I think these are going to be safe, effective vaccines. It will really help turn the pandemic around,” he said.
Experts say officials should plan their vaccine rollouts as well as develop communication strategies to communicate with parents about the small risks of vaccine side effects.
I think for this group, the most important thing is to make sure there’s really proper education and information to build vaccine confidence and to really carefully monitor vaccine safety as we get started with this.” Dr. Pham-Huy said.
Pfizer and BioNTech say they expect results for the two other age groups included in the study — children ages 2 to 5 and children from six months to 2 years — by the end of the year.
On Monday, Health Canada said it had not yet received a submission from Pfizer and BioNTech to authorize the use of the vaccine in children aged 5 to 11.
Christina Antonio, director of corporate affairs for Pfizer Canada, said the company is working closely with Health Canada throughout the pandemic and will submit new data as it becomes available.
“We share the urgency of providing data that can help support the decision by regulatory authorities to make the vaccine available to school-aged children as soon as possible,” she said in an e-mail.
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