Why these Alberta experts welcome the coming Health Canada decision on Pfizer's vaccine for kids

Canada’s review of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11 should be completed within the next “one to two weeks,” Health Canada’s chief medical adviser said Friday.

Kids between 5 and 11 years old have the highest rates of COVID-19 in the province

Andre Mattus, right, a nurse at the University of Washington Medical Center, gives the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to Amar Gunderson, 6, in this file photo. Medical experts in Alberta are pleased to hear a vaccine for kids in Canada may be close. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

Health Canada's review of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11 will be completed within one to two weeks, which has some experts in Alberta applauding the news.

Three weeks ago, Pfizer-BioNTech became the first company to seek Health Canada's approval for a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine. Other companies, including Moderna, are also working on children's formulations.

While children aged 12 and older have been approved for the adult formulation, the pediatric formulation would be given in two smaller doses — 10 mcg (micrograms) instead of the 30 mcg used for those 12 and older.

The news is welcomed by health experts in Alberta, where kids between five and 11 have the highest rates of COVID at 25.57 per 100,000 people.

"School-aged kids are out and about, thankfully, in school, in activities. And so there is that possibility of spread for that population," said Dr. Michelle Bailey, the section president for pediatrics with the Alberta Medical Association.

Bailey says while the risk of severe illness from a direct COVID-19 infection is low among kids, Alberta children are ending up hospitalized with the illness. Those numbers have grown along with overall infection rates.

"When you have a large population infected, we are going to get some of those kids coming into hospital. And we worry, particularly for those children with chronic and underlying conditions as being a bit more high risk for COVID direct impact," she said.

Bailey also worries about the long-term effects.

The Alberta Children's Hospital has admitted more children during the fourth wave than in previous waves for MIS-C — a serious condition that occurs weeks after a COVID-19 infection and causes inflammation in organs, including the heart.

 She says children are also suffering from long COVID.

Shannon MacDonald, an associate professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Alberta as well as a researcher on immunization policy and practice, is leading national research on parents' perspectives on the COVID-19 shots

She says her preliminary survey results show about 55 per cent of parents with five- to 11-year-olds intend to get them vaccinated, and 25 per cent are undecided.

"Looking at that survey data, we wanted to see, like, who are the parents who had higher intention or lower intention," she said.

"Parents who have vaccinated their children with routine vaccines are more likely to give them the COVID vaccine."

The researcher says she also appreciates Health Canada's due diligence on the matter.

"What we've typically seen is that parents want to see that Health Canada has approved it. They want to hear from their health-care provider that this is recommended," she said.

MacDonald adds that until Alberta can get this age group vaccinated, life is not going back to normal.

"We can't be assured that our kids will stay in-person in school. We can't be assured that our kids can do all their extracurricular activities," she said.

"So there's sort of that bigger picture of if we want our kids to sort of get their normal life back, getting them vaccinated is going to be key to getting our vaccine coverage numbers up."

With files from Jennifer Lee and Ryan Maloney

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