New Brunswick

New Brunswick prepares for COVID-19 vaccine rollout for children under 5

New Brunswick will be ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to children under five as soon as they're approved and available, according to the chief medical officer of health.

Planning underway after pediatric vaccines approved in U.S.

The U.S. has approved COVID-19 vaccines for children under five. The province is 'watching very closely' as Health Canada reviews Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for children under five. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)

New Brunswick will be ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to children under five as soon as they're approved and available, according to the chief medical officer of health.

The province is also working on an early flu vaccination campaign in anticipation of "a higher than normal" influenza season this year, said Dr. Jennifer Russell.

In the U.S., immunization of infants and preschoolers against COVID-19 began this week after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in children as young as six months old last Friday, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended use of the vaccines in this age group the following day.

No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for children under five in Canada yet. Health Canada is reviewing an application from Moderna.

"We are waiting for Health Canada as well as NACI [National Advisory Committee on Immunization] to come forth with their recommendations," said Russell.

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

Russell could not estimate when that might be.

"But we are preparing ahead of time for that inevitability."

No details yet

Planning for the rollout is underway, said Department of Health spokesperson Michelle Guenard.

The department is working with its primary care partners, including the regional health authorities, community pharmacies and the New Brunswick Medical Society, she said.

No other details, such as where the shots will be available or who will administer them, are available yet.

"Final decisions will be made after Health Canada has given approval to the vaccine," Guenard said in an emailed statement. "This includes reviewing a statement from NACI and local considerations."

"Guidance will be provided to those identified to be immunizers for the under-five vaccinations," she added. "This includes sharing information from Health Canada, the vaccine supplier, NACI and guidance from New Brunswick Public Health."

'Very encouraging'

Russell called the U.S. approval "very encouraging."

"I think whatever protections we can provide to the population as a whole is very important," she said. "This is one of the last pieces, really, that we've been waiting for."

The under-five age group is the only one in the province that doesn't currently have COVID-19 vaccines available to them.

Children aged five to 11 have been able to get a shot since November.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, said with COVID-19 vaccines already available to New Brunswickers aged five and older, the pending approval for those under five is 'one of the last pieces' the province has been waiting for. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"As we have seen with older age groups, we expect that the vaccines for younger children will provide protection from the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, such as hospitalization and death," FDA commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf said in a statement.

"Those trusted with the care of children can have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of these COVID-19 vaccines and can be assured that the agency was thorough in its evaluation of the data," he said.

The FDA found the known and potential benefits of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines "outweigh the known and potential risks in the pediatric populations."

According to the clinical trial data, the most commonly reported side effects in children aged six months to five years old included pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, fever and underarm (or groin) swelling/tenderness of lymph nodes in the same arm (or thigh) as the injection.

Spike in flu cases

A total of 52.7 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received a COVID-19 booster shot, as of this week's COVIDWatch report, 88.1 per cent have received two doses and 93.3 per cent have received one dose.

The province wants to have as many people protected as possible going into the fall, said Russell.

The "pattern of the pandemic" has been that the risks tend to decrease in the summer when people are outside more, physically distancing, and increase in the fall and winter, she said.

"I think that correlation is holding true at the moment but you know we try to be prepared for whatever comes our way with COVID because there aren't any guarantees.

"We are aware that we're expecting a higher than normal flu season this year and so we will be pushing our vaccination campaigns early."

The red line indicates the growth in the percentage of positive influenza tests in New Brunswick. Yellow represents the Influenza A (H3)cases, while green illustrates Influenza A (unsubtyped). (Government of New Brunswick)

New Brunswick is dealing with an unusually late flu season, due in part to the lifting of COVID-19 protective measures in March, such as masking.

Normally, the flu season really starts to "take off" in January and "peters out" once the warmer weather begins, the province's acting deputy chief medical officer of health Dr. Yves Léger has said.

But nearly a quarter of this season's cases occurred in one week this month.

Seventy-three positive influenza cases were reported in week 23, which ended June 11, the most recent statistics available from Public Health show. Six of the cases required hospitalization.

Two new influenza outbreaks were reported in nursing homes and one new influenza-like illness outbreak was reported in a school, the influenza surveillance report shows.

A total of 302 cases have been reported so far this season, which began Aug. 29, 2021 and continues until Aug. 27. That's up from 40 just a month ago.

There have been 60 hospitalizations and four deaths.

'Double' risk

If the risks for COVID-19 transmission increase in the fall at the same time the risks for the flu are expected to rise, "then we've got, you know, a double kind of risk happening," said Russell.

"So we want to address that early and making sure that everybody who's eligible for flu vaccination gets vaccinated as well."

The province is also "really keen" to have people who fell behind with their routine vaccinations to get caught up on those, she said.

"We wouldn't want to see a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now