The first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for children aged five to 11 will start to arrive in Canada on Sunday, Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi said today.
Tassi said the government and Pfizer-BioNTech had agreed already to an accelerated delivery schedule and more than 2.9 million doses will be shipped by the end of the week — enough to provide a first dose to every eligible Canadian child.
Earlier today, Health Canada approved Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for children aged five to 11, promising what could be a very different new year for hundreds of thousands of families.
"After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, the department has determined that the benefits of this vaccine for children between five and 11 years of age outweigh the risks," Health Canada said in a news release Friday morning.
"This is the first COVID-19 vaccine authorized in Canada for use in this age group and marks a major milestone in Canada's fight against COVID-19."
WATCH | COVID-19 doses for children will begin arriving in Canada on Sunday
The provinces and territories are responsible for administering the vaccine. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province's booking system should be ready as early next week for parents to make appointments for their children.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said children could start receiving doses by the end of next week.
"I have spoken to almost all of my colleagues in different provinces and territories and they are well prepared," he said on CBC's Power & Politics.
WATCH | Health minister on the approval of COVID-19 vaccines for children
Pfizer-BioNTech's pediatric vaccine is delivered in doses one-third the size of those given to adults and kids 12 and older.
Health Canada authorized a two-dose regimen to be administered three weeks apart. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), however, is recommending that the spacing between doses be increased to at least eight weeks, as evidence has been growing that a longer interval generates a more robust immune response.
The longer spacing might also help to decrease even further the risk of one rare side effect — myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle — that has appeared occasionally in adolescents and young adults, NACI said.
Dr. Michelle Barton-Forbes is an associate professor at Western University's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in London Ont., who specializes in pediatric infectious disease. She said this could be a game-changer for Canada's pandemic response.
"Ultimately not only will we help to keep kids from acute COVID-19 and its consequences, we will keep kids healthy and we will also keep them happy as they are allowed to do in-class learning and extracurricular activities," she said.
"This would also help reduce new adult cases in the community resulting from children with school acquisition who go home and infect their parents and grandparents."
No serious side effects identified: Health Canada
Health Canada said clinical trials showed the vaccine was 90.7 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 in children five to 11 years of age and that no serious side effects were identified.
WATCH | Specialist focuses on key concerns for pediatric use of COVID-19 vaccine
As part of its approval, Health Canada is requiring Pfizer-BioNTech to continue providing information to Health Canada on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in the younger age group.
Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an infectious disease specialist and clinical associate professor in pediatrics at the University of British Columbia, said that data will help detect very rare safety events.
"We always have to keep our eyes open for those things and our public health agencies will be very actively monitoring for adverse events," he said.
Murthy said he will be watching for trends in vaccine uptake across the country.
"We want to make sure that it's not just the kids of doctors," he said. "We want to make sure that it's folks who are in communities who may be underserved, or maybe more marginalized. And so just like we needed for adults, we need to have the same outreach and the same engagement with communities to make sure that kids have the same protection."
Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist and microbiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said that while COVID-19 isn't usually as serious in children as it is in older adults, it is a "non-trivial disease."
"It's something most parents will want their children well protected from," she said.
"Whatever proportion of kids get vaccinated will create a significant reduction in transmission and just let us all get back to something closer to normal," McGeer said.
The Canadian Paediatric Society also issued a statement saying it "welcomes" the vaccine's approval.
The Canadian Medical Association also celebrated the news — while warning that health care workers can expect more hate from the anti-vaccine movement.
"Given the polarization seen around vaccine hesitancy, we are concerned that this latest announcement will result in a further escalation of violent threats and harassment against health workers," said CMA president Dr. Katharine Smart.
"To ensure that this is not a catalyst for a small minority to escalate their actions further, we are calling on governments to ensure the safety of health workers as well as their patients and those seeking care."
Duclos said the government also expects submissions for vaccines for children under five from both Pfizer and Moderna. Those submissions would have to go through a new approval process conducted by Health Canada.