There is a COVID-19 childhood vaccine awaiting approval in Canada. What do we know about it?

Since Health Canada announced last week that Pfizer-BioNTech was seeking approval for its COVID-19 vaccine for young children, many people have asked questions. Here is what we were able to discover:

What do we know about Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine?

Pfizer-BioNTech is the first company to seek Health Canada approval for a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine (although other companies, such as Moderna, are working on formulations for children).

The pediatric version of the vaccine is intended for children 5 to 11 years old. Those 12 years of age and older receive the already approved adult formulation.

The pediatric formulation will be given in lower doses – 10 mcg (micrograms) instead of the 30 mcg used for people 12 years of age and older.

According to a spokesperson for Pfizer Canada, the pediatric version vials will each contain 10 doses and have a “unique label,” and the cap will be a different color – so healthcare workers can tell the difference between the adult and child version.

Two teenage sisters await their COVID-19 snaps in Toronto in this file photo. Children 12 years of age and older are allowed to receive the same dose of vaccine as adults. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

What is not clear is whether the pediatric version is the same as the adult vaccine and just given in smaller doses, or a different formulation. CBC News could not get a specific answer from Pfizer or Health Canada to this question.

Like the adult version, children will receive two doses of the vaccine. Manufacturer’s instructions will say to space them out approximately 21 days, the Pfizer spokesperson said.

But it is possible that if Health Canada approves the vaccine for young children, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) could recommend a longer interval of up to 12 weeks between doses, as it did. for the adult version earlier this year, said Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist in Chu Ste. Justine in Montreal.

As the former chairman of NACI, Quach-Thanh is familiar with how it works, but does not speak on behalf of NACI.

There’s a lot of evidence now that the longer time between doses produced a better immune response in adults, which the committee would take into account, she said.

“What helps in the decisions of the NACI is that there is… expertise in vaccinology on the committee,” said Quach-Thanh. “And so you can generalize from your previous knowledge [of] this vaccine and make recommendations that are not on the label. “

When can my child be vaccinated?

It depends on how long it takes Health Canada to approve the vaccine.

“The ministry is currently reviewing the submission and will only make a decision after a thorough scientific review of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness in this younger age group,” a spokesperson said in an email to CBC News. “As with all COVID-19 submissions, Health Canada is prioritizing this review. “.

The submission includes clinical trial data from Pfizer, which included 2,268 children between the ages of five and 11, according to the company’s press release.

NACI will also review the data and make recommendations.

If there are no issues, Quach-Thanh estimates approval could take four to six weeks.

The other variable is the vaccine supply.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada had reached an agreement with Pfizer to obtain enough doses to provide “all children in the country between the ages of five and eleven years old with vaccines.”

That’s 2.9 million doses, government officials later confirmed.

They will arrive “as soon as possible” after Health Canada gives the green light to the vaccine, Trudeau said.

Canada to receive millions of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer for children aged 5 to 11

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that once Health Canada approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11, there will be millions of doses available to immunize every child across the country. 2:00

The vaccines will then be distributed to provinces and territories, who are then responsible for working with local public health units to get them into the arms of children.

Quach-Thanh said it would be ideal if children could receive a dose of the vaccine before Christmas, as it could help reduce transmission of COVID-19 during a time when people congregate. In addition, during the holidays, children often see their grandparents, who are at a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Where can my child get the vaccine once it is available?

This may vary depending on where you live, as provinces and territories, as well as local public health units, determine vaccination plans.

But based on information gathered by CBC News in Ontario and British Columbia, children could be vaccinated against COVID-19 in doctor’s offices, pharmacies, community vaccination clinics and school clinics.

In Toronto, for example, some schools are open to make vaccines available during the school day, while others will run clinics after classes end, said Dr Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health. .

What about the side effects?

The goal of protecting children from any potential side effects is one of the main reasons they are the last to participate in clinical trials and receive the vaccine, Quach-Thanh said.

“When we see that it is safe in older people, we are more comfortable giving it to younger people,” she said. “So that’s absolutely reassuring.”

The most concerning side effects that appeared after millions of adolescents and adults were vaccinated were very rare cases of myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation in or around the heart).

But even in the rare cases that did occur, most cases were mild and resolved without hospitalization, Quach-Thanh said.

Additionally, people are much more likely to contract heart disease if they are infected with COVID-19, experts say.

What are the benefits of vaccinating my child against COVID-19?

Because children are less likely than adults to become seriously ill from COVID-19, some parents wonder why their children need the vaccine, Quach-Thanh and de Villa said.

But some are suffering from serious illnesses, de Villa said – and the virus that causes COVID-19 is finding people who are not vaccinated.

“If you are not protected, the virus will take this opportunity to infect, whether you are younger or older,” de Villa said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Even if they don’t get sick themselves, children can pass the virus on to people more vulnerable to life-threatening illnesses, she said.

Vaccinating your child means “you are protecting them, you are protecting yourself and your family, and you are protecting grandparents and the elderly who might get sick and be in danger as a result,” de Villa said.

Parents should also consider the benefits of bringing their children back to more normal lives, Quach-Thanh said.

“You can go back to school and you can stop, you know, going to your testing center every two weeks because you sniffle after you’re vaccinated,” she said.

“I think life as we knew it will be much easier to come back to [with vaccination]. “

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