Quebecers aged 12-17 now eligible for 3rd dose, appointments open as of Saturday

Quebec is offering people aged 12 to 17 a booster dose as of Saturday. A Montreal pediatric infectious diseases specialist says high-risk teenagers stand to benefit greatly, and encourages waiting three months for the dose post-COVID-19 infection.

Expert encourages vaccines for high-risk teens, waiting at least 3 months post-infection

JJ Fixman, 14, receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal on May 22, 2021. Quebec expanded booster dose eligibility to people aged 12 to 17 on Friday. They will be able to make an appointment for their dose as of Saturday. (The Canadian Press)

When the highly transmissible Omicron variant swept across Quebec late last year, 16-year-old Milla Simms became scared for her health for the first time in the pandemic.

"Prior to the spread of the Omicron variant ... [COVID-19] never really felt like something that hit me super, super close," said the Montreal teen. 

"But then around the winter break .. it felt like every single person I knew had suddenly gotten it and I was like, 'OK am I next?'" 

So when Simms found out she'd be able to register online for her third dose as of this weekend, she said she wouldn't hesitate. 

"I'm actually really excited," she said. 

The Health Ministry expanded booster dose eligibility to people aged 12 to 17 on Friday following a recommendation from the province's immunization committee (CIQ). 

It advises teenagers who are at high risk of complications from the virus roll up their sleeves for a third time, however anyone in the age group who wishes to get a booster dose can also do so, provided it's been at least three months since their second dose.

Appointments will be made available to the age group on the Clic Santé portal starting Saturday.

3rd doses for teens post-infection 

Nikolaos Anastasopoulos, 14, says he's also happy to be able to get the third dose so he can safely resume sports and travel to Greece with his family. 

As with adults, studies in teenagers show a decrease in protection against infection over time, the ministry says. 

"A booster dose will result in greater vaccine efficacy in 12- to 17-year-olds in the short term against the new variants, including Omicron," it said. 

Dr. Earl Rubin, director of the pediatric infectious disease unit at the Montreal Children's Hospital, says while the third will protect teenagers against more severe infection, it's those who are high-risk that stand to benefit most.

"[Those with] obesity, severe asthma, any underlying health conditions ... as well as those living in a group living environment ... I absolutely endorse and believe it is the right thing to do," said Rubin. 

Dr. Earl Rubin of the Montreal Children's Hospital said a third dose poses no more health risks than the first two did. (Submitted by Earl Rubin)

For other teenager, he said there is still a benefit in getting a third dose, as it protects against more severe disease, but the vaccination isn't as strong in preventing transmission as it has been with previous variants. 

"We know that the vaccine effectiveness against infection overall with Omicron, I believe about one week after [the shot], is only about 60 per cent to prevent infection," Rubin said.

As more than 2 million Quebecers have been infected since the start of the fifth wave, he says it's likely many teenagers now eligible for the third dose have already caught the virus. To that end, he says waiting at least three months to get the third dose post-infection will prolong protection, as waning immunity is prominent with Omicron. 

As of Friday, 93 per cent of those aged 12 to 17 in Quebec have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

As of Tuesday, the most recent day data was collected, 12,859 high school students were reported absent due to COVID-19, both with and without a positive test. 

For parents that are hesitant to have their child vaccinated, Rubin says the reports of side effects don't appear to be any higher than after the first or second dose. 

The CIQ says the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is recommended for teenagers because it presents a "slightly lower risk of developing complications," such as myocarditis, after vaccination, and Rubin says waiting a sufficient duration of time between doses (at least three months) reduces that risk even more. 

Simms, for her part, says she hopes other people in her age group feel the same level of urgency she does to get that extra dose of protection. 

"I don't think we want any more of our teenage years taken away from us and we want our grandparents to be safe — even our parents and teachers." 

With files from Lauren McCallum