N.B. falls behind some provinces in COVID-19 vaccine rollout for children under 5

·4 min read
Quebec started vaccinating children under five against COVID-19 Monday but New Brunswick is still finalizing its plans a month after Health Canada approved Moderna's vaccine for this age group. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Quebec started vaccinating children under five against COVID-19 Monday but New Brunswick is still finalizing its plans a month after Health Canada approved Moderna's vaccine for this age group. (Ivanoh Demers/CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Eleven days after Health Canada approved a COVID-19 vaccine for infants and preschoolers, New Brunswick still hasn't announced when it plans to open appointments for this age group.

In neighbouring Quebec, vaccinations for children under five got underway Monday, while some other provinces started offering doses last week.

In P.E.I., parents also started booking appointments on Monday.

Nova Scotia announced its rollout plans July 14, the same day Health Canada authorized Moderna's Spikevax vaccine for children aged six months to five years in doses one-quarter the size of the adult shot. The booking system in that province is expected to open in early August.

New Brunswick is "working to make the two-dose vaccine available," said Department of Health spokesperson Adam Bowie.

"Public Health and some participating community pharmacies will begin offering clinics, by appointment only, once plans have been finalized," he said in an emailed statement.

"We expect we'll have more to say very soon."

Bowie did not offer an explanation for the delay.

Pledged a month ago to be ready for rollout

A month ago, New Brunswick's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Jennifer Russell, told CBC News that the province would be ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to children under five as soon as they were approved.

The province was "watching very closely," she said, and "ready to act on those when they come through."

But as of Monday, the province's COVID-19 website still states: "Currently, the vaccines approved in Canada are not approved for those under the age of 5."

According to Sackville mother Rachelle Pascoe-Deslauriers, the province plans to make the vaccines available in August.

Pascoe-Deslauriers, who is anxious to get her three-year-old daughter vaccinated and frustrated by the lack of public information about the planned rollout, wrote to Health Minister Bruce Fitch, Russell and Public Health last Friday to inquire.

Submitted by Rachelle Pascoe-Deslauriers
Submitted by Rachelle Pascoe-Deslauriers

At that time, the Department of Health replied to Pascoe-Deslauriers, saying: "We are currently working on the rollout and will keep the public informed as we proceed. We will have details as we progress, and plan that beginning in August, COVID vaccines will be available for children six months to five years.

"Please be aware, the situation is fluid and the information changes daily. We strongly encourage you to visit our dedicated COVID-19 website for the most current information."

Pascoe-Deslauriers doesn't understand what's taking so long, "particularly compared to other provinces," and calls the outdated, inaccurate information on the government's website about the vaccine's approval status unacceptable, noting the site is "supposed to be their number one point of contact for people."

Government of New Brunswick
Government of New Brunswick

Although her daughter doesn't have any health concerns that put her at higher risk for COVID-19, she does have elderly relatives they'd like to visit.

"We want to keep other people safe, as well as keep her safe. And that's really important," said Pascoe-Deslauriers.

"Her exposure through daycare is, you know, a big source of illness or bringing of illness into our household, right? As daycares and schools are for a lot of parents, their families. So it's really about just making sure that everyone has all of the best protections available, particularly as there are very few remaining Public Health protections."

The province is still in the midst of a global pandemic, she said, although she believes "the emergency-ness of it has waned in many people's eyes. And many officials' eyes."

Slow uptake 'a concern,' said premier

On July 15, Premier Blaine Higgs acknowledged vaccine uptake among children five to 11 and older age groups "is a concern."

"I know it's a struggle and it's an issue," he told reporters.

"So Public Health will be putting out a campaign in relation to the younger folks" under age five.

It will cover the safety of the vaccines and the importance of vaccination, Higgs said.

The province is "seeing increased cases [of COVID], albeit, you know, to varying degrees of severity," he said. "But we've always been told, and I still believe it, vaccinations is our safest passport to health in relation to COVID. And we're encouraging people to do that."

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

The Department of Health did not respond to questions about how many New Brunswick children are eligible for the newly approved vaccine, how many doses the province is getting from the federal government or when.

New Brunswick plans to offer eligible children the vaccine with at least an eight-week interval between the first and second dose, according to the department spokesperson.

For any children aged six months to five years who are moderately to severely immunocompromised, three doses are recommended with an interval of four to eight weeks between each dose, Bowie said.

Initially, the vaccine will be administered within 14 days of other vaccines, he added.

Officials from the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saskatchewan opened up appointments for children under five last week, Manitoba opened up appointments on Monday while Ontario is scheduled to open appointments on Thursday.

Appointments are also expected to begin in the Yukon this week and next week in B.C.. In Nunavut, vaccinations were expected to be available starting last week.

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