Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine approved for 12- to 17-year-olds in Canada

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday that Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is now approved for use in adolescents.

Moderna vaccine the 2nd authorized in Canada for those aged 12 to 17

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended booster shots for certain immunocompromised individuals last week, but hasn't reached a decision on whether to provide additional shots to the broader population. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said Friday that Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is now approved for use in adolescents.

"After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, Health Canada has determined that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing #Covid19 in youth aged 12 to 17," the agencies said in a social media post.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved for Canadians in early May for those aged 12 to 15. That vaccine was approved for those 16 and older in December 2020, the same month Moderna's shots got the go-ahead for Canadians over 18.

Moderna applied for authorization for administering it to youth in early June, citing a clinical trial of 3,700 youth in which none of the teens who got two doses developed a COVID-19 infection.

Health Canada took only a few weeks to approve Pfizer for youth, and has not explained why the Moderna review took more than two months.

Europe approved the Moderna vaccine for children more than a month ago. The United States has not yet authorized it for teenagers.

Over 63% of 12-to-17 group vaccinated

Health Canada estimates that as of Aug. 21, nearly 77 per cent of Canadians aged 12 to 17 had received at least one dose of that vaccine, with 63.6 per cent fully vaccinated. Some provinces have allowed for the inoculation of kids who are in their 12th year but yet to have their birthday; some 7,350 Canadians under 12 have been fully vaccinated.

The fully vaccinated rate in the 12-to-17 group was actually higher than the 18 to 29 rate (60.45 per cent) and only a few percentage points off the pace of those 30-to-39 (66.7 per cent), as provinces and regional public health units have tried to persuade young, healthy adults to take up the shots.

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Benefits of COVID-19 vaccine outweigh low risk of heart inflammation, experts say

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A small number of cases of heart inflammation — specifically, myocarditis and pericarditis — have occurred in teens and young adults following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, but experts say the benefits of a vaccine far outweigh the risk.

Health Canada earlier this summer added labels on both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines advising of rare and usually mild reports of myocarditis and pericarditis, heart inflammation conditions. The incidence has predominantly been in males under the age of 30, but experts have said that COVID-19 is much more likely statistically to lead to those types of inflammation than either vaccine.

In Canada, 557 cases of the two conditions have now been diagnosed in people who had received one or two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, 96 per cent of whom had received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Half of the people who developed the conditions were between 12 and 29 years old.

Overall, the conditions occurred in less than one in 100,000 people who received the vaccine.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization said in a statement Friday that it recommended children between 12 and 17 get both doses of either Pfizer or Moderna, noting that it had taken into account the concerns around myocarditis and pericarditis.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said in her weekly written update that since Pfizer has been used for the nearly two million teens already vaccinated, some provinces and territories might want to just keep using it since they are more familiar with its side effects. But she said Moderna is safe to use for that age group.

Health officials around the world are watching closely for any evidence of waning vaccine effectiveness in the face of the dominant delta coronavirus variants, with one study from the Mayo Clinic earlier this month suggesting that Moderna's doses may be slightly more effective at preventing serious illness in delta cases.

Trial data involving youngest kids expected soon

Both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting trials testing the effectiveness of their COVID-19 vaccines in kids under the age of 12. Pfizer has said that it expected to send its trial data to U.S. regulators in September for emergency use authorization. Moderna also hopes to produce data on its trials with the youngest sometime in the fall, though it may not occur until early 2022.

While Canada and the U.S. haven't necessarily moved in lock-step as to giving the go-ahead to COVID-19 vaccines, the top official from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Washington said in the past week that any vaccine approval for the youngest of children — a decision ultimately made by the Food and Drug Administration — might be a few months away.

"I got to be honest, I don't see approval for kids five to 11 coming much before the end of 2021," NIH director Francis Collins told NPR in an interview.

The White House coronavirus task force on Friday heralded the fact that 50 per cent of those 12 to 17 in the U.S. have now received at least one vaccine dose, slightly behind Canada's pace even though the academic year has already begun for many American schoolchildren.

Given the concerns about delta and the fact kids under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated, many Canadian provinces or school districts in recent days have decided to make mask wearing in class compulsory for the youngest of schoolchildren to begin in September.


  • An earlier version of this story suggested the Pfizer vaccine was approved for 12- to 17-year-olds in May. In fact, it was approved for ages 16 and above in December 2020 and ages 12 to 15 in May 2021.
    Aug 27, 2021 2:20 PM ET

With files from The Canadian Press