A new cross-Canada study tracking health conditions linked to COVID-19 infection and vaccination in youth could act as an "early warning system" to flag potential concerns, says a researcher leading the investigation.
The project is collecting data from 13 children's hospitals across the country to monitor how the vaccine rollout is impacting hospitalization rates and severe illness among children.
Dr. Karina Top, a lead investigator at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University, says several public health organizations already watch for rare adverse events but that this study will build on existing evidence to ensure children receive the best protection possible.
"We act as an early warning system," Top said by phone from Halifax on Friday. "We're adapting our processes and surveillance to try to make sure that we capture particularly any health events that could be safety concerns."
The study launched last week with $1.8 million in federal funding.
Researchers are watching for two types of heart inflammation — myocarditis and pericarditis — that reports in Israel and the United States have identified as a possible rare side effect in teens and young adults after the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, said Top.
Health authorities are working to determine whether these cases, which have mostly been mild, are linked to the vaccine. Top noted that myocarditis can be caused by a number of infections, including COVID-19.
Top emphasized that Health Canada has conducted rigorous reviews to demonstrate that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective across all eligible age groups.
And experts say the threat of COVID-19 far outweighs any potential risks associated with vaccination.
As Canadian youth aged 12 to 17 roll up their sleeves, Top said researchers are anticipating concerns that could emerge if vaccination expands to kids as young as seven.
This includes tracking cases of febrile seizures, which are common in young children with fevers, to establish a baseline that could be used to compare rates after vaccination, said Top.
Top said the study is also looking at symptoms associated with COVID-19 in children, including a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which can cause swelling and heart problems.
She noted that hospitalizations numbers only represent a fraction of COVID-19 cases in children, and is skewed toward the most severe cases.
The chairwoman of a federal advisory committee on vaccines added in a statement Friday that the study should help experts flag potential issues as they emerge.
“This study will bring together information from hospitals across Canada, to more quickly identify patterns of experience that will help determine whether some of the things that they are seeing are related to vaccination," said Dr. Caroline Quach of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
"The faster our experts are able to react, the faster we will be able to find solutions."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2021.
Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press