As COVID-19 vaccines for kids get closer, experts weigh up how to reassure parents
Health Canada could approve vaccine for kids under 12 by Halloween, says doctor
As Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech say they've moved a step closer to providing their COVID-19 vaccine for younger children, one mother says she's keen to have her eldest vaccinated, but hears some hesitation among other parents.
"As parents, you're nervous and you're apprehensive, obviously, about any risks," said Fallon Jones, who lives in Halifax with a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
"But we have to weigh the pros and the cons here, and I think that this is a good opportunity to protect them against a potentially deadly virus," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.
Pfizer-BioNTech said Monday that a clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine recorded a robust immune response in five- to 11-year-olds, and the company plans to seek regulatory approval as soon as possible. Children received two shots, each one-third the dose size given to adults. The findings have not been peer-reviewed, nor published.
For any vaccine to be approved by Health Canada, the manufacturers supply the necessary clinical trial data for review. If the regulator grants approval, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) will make a recommendation on their use, but the final decision to deploy the vaccines rests with provincial authorities.
In a statement to The Current, Health Canada said the makers of all COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada are conducting or planning studies in adolescents and younger children, but it has so far not received any submission for the approval of any COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12.
In her work at a vaccine hesitancy clinic in Calgary, Dr. Cora Constantinescu meets parents who are experiencing "a lot of fear and anxiety" around their children potentially getting the vaccine.
"We often have parents who are fully vaccinated themselves, who may be hesitant about their kids," said Constantinescu, a pediatrician and infectious disease doctor at Alberta Children's Hospital.
She said that parents talk to her about things they've seen online, including "anti-vaccine rhetoric and a lot of misconstrued science."
In Halifax, Jones said she often hears other parents say they don't know what's in the vaccine, so they won't give it to their kids. When she asks if they knew what was in the vaccines their kids received as babies, the response is usually no, she said.
"I completely respect and understand how there would be some fear associated with it," she said.
But ultimately, "we trusted our doctors then and we trusted the science then, and we need to do the same with this vaccine."
How should parents approach vaccine question?
Constantinescu said many parents have seen misinformation on social media, where there is a "huge polarization of the pro-vaccine and the anti-vaccine crowd."
"The parents are caught in the middle, scared and worried about their kids, trying to make the best decision they can," she said.
As parents approach the decision, they should consider the dual impact of COVID-19 on children, she said.
"We're seeing the direct effects of COVID on children, and we know that that can range from mild disease, to respiratory illness, to being hospitalized, having a multi-system inflammation, to ending up in ICU," she said.
There is also an indirect cost, including mental health issues and issues around socialization, she said.
The news from Pfizer-BioNTech gives her hope that those impacts can soon be addressed, but she warned that the data has not yet been made public, or reviewed by Health Canada.
If it is approved, she said parents should approach the vaccine as an issue of "personal protection first."
"It's about protecting their kids directly, looking out for them, and wanting to return them to a normal life," she said.
'Pull out all the stops' to protect kids
Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency physician in Toronto, wants to see a safe vaccine for kids approved and available as quickly as possible.
"I'm calling for all of these processes to be speeded up and done very transparently," said Pirzada, who is also a co-founder of Masks4Canada, a group that advocates for public health measures to slow the spread of the virus.
He added that more work should be done to reassure parents that the vaccines are safe. He warned that COVID-19 is not harmless to children, and the longer they remain unprotected, the more infections there will be.
In the meantime, vaccination sites and health-care workers could be prepared to ramp the vaccination campaign back up, he said.
"Once that approval comes, we should pull out all the stops and get these shots into little arms as quickly as possible."
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin, Arianne Robinson and Joana Draghici.