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When will your children be vaccinated? An update on COVID-19 vaccines for kids

Anxious parents have months to wait before knowing when their younger children can be vaccinated. With the federal government’s recent announcement regarding an upcoming exemption for fully vaccinated travellers this summer, many are left wondering what they’ll be able to do with kids who haven’t gotten the jab.

Not only is travel up in the air, but everyday life, too. From playdates to sleepovers to sporting events, parents are uncertain of what activities will be deemed safe for their unvaccinated children.

While fully vaccinated Canadians will be able to travel abroad without quarantining on their return possibly as soon as July, the issue for Canadians travelling with children may be the return home. Health Minister Patty Hajdu has said that families would not be separated upon arrival. One option being considered is that families returning with unvaccinated children would be permitted to quarantine at home rather than at a hotel.

Nearly 1 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of June 5. However, vaccines for children under 12 are not expected to be available until the fall at the very earliest. At this time, the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada for those under 18 is Pfizer-BioNTech. The remaining three, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen, are still in trials.

In mid-June, the federal government invested $1.8 million into a pan-Canadian study to monitor the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in youth. The study is to be conducted through the IMPACT (Immunization Monitoring Program ACTive) network, which has analyzed pediatric vaccines for more than 30 years.

Shaun Morris, a principal investigator on the study and a pediatric infectious disease physician at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, says the study will build on the information gathered in his research team’s Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program COVID-19 study.

“That study collected data on this illness from the beginning of the pandemic until the end of May 2021 to provide a more complete understanding of how COVID-19 affects children and youth and how we can best protect them,” says Morris.

Scott Halperin, the Canadian Immunization Research Network’s principal investigator, says it will be crucial for the research to consider the parents’ perspectives “once the vaccines are available for children.”

“Understanding parents’ concerns and the type of information they want to make decisions … is going to be very important,” says Halperin. “If public health officials know what parents are thinking and a recommendation is made to immunize all children, (the) type of information that parents are going to want for them to be comfortable with their decision (should be available).”

Here is an update on where the trials stand.

Pfizer-BioNTech

Health Canada approved Pfizer-BioNTech for children 12 and up on May 5. The results of the company’s vaccine study in adolescents demonstrated “100 per cent efficacy and robust antibody responses” in participants aged 12 to 15. This age group has been eligible to receive the first dose of Pfizer since May 23 and can do so by booking appointments.

Pfizer-BioNTech has announced that a large study to test its vaccine on children under 12 is underway. The first group of volunteers in the early-stage trial received the first injection in March 2021. Data on 5- to-11-year-olds is anticipated to be available in September, with more information regarding children 5 and under potentially following in the late fall, said a Pfizer spokesperson.

Moderna

Moderna’s vaccine is currently only authorized for adults 18 and up. In May, the company announced that the second phase of its TeenCOVE study of 12- to 17-year-olds “met its primary immunogenicity endpoint, successfully bridging immune responses to the adult vaccination.” No cases of COVID-19 were found in participants who had received two doses of Moderna.

As of June 7, the company has filed for authorization with Health Canada for kids aged 12 to 17. It also has filed for emergency use authorization for this age group in the U.S.

Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel says the company is encouraged that its vaccine is highly effective in preventing the disease in adolescents. Bancel says the results of testing on children as young as 5 are expected to be available by the fall.

Clinical trials for children under 2 are currently underway at UF Health Jacksonville at the University of Florida. The small group of four children are to be monitored for a year to determine how well they are protected against COVID, its variants, and vaccine side effects. Mobeen Rathore, UF Health’s chief of infectious diseases, says a second cohort is scheduled to be enrolled in July.

AstraZeneca-Oxford

In February, pediatric trials of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine began with about 300 children aged 6 to 17 years old enrolled. However, the University of Oxford halted its trial in April while an investigation into the vaccine’s potential link to rare blood clots in adults was conducted by the United Kingdom’s drug regulator.

The trial saw no safety concerns, but “additional vaccinations in the pediatric study will be postponed to allow further discussions with the (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) and the trial’s data safety monitoring board,” says an AstraZeneca spokesperson in an email. Children who had received a vaccine prior to or at the time of the pause “are still moving forward with their scheduled visits.”

Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)

The one-shot Janssen vaccine, which was approved by Health Canada for adults 18 and older on March 5, has not yet been administered in Canada.

The first batch of 300,000 doses will not be released due to a possible quality control issue, according to a recent statement from Health Canada. The decision was made after Health Canada was “unable to determine that (the) shipment of Janssen vaccines meets the department’s rigorous quality standards.” A statement from Johnson & Johnson says future batches will remain under review.

The company included adolescents aged 12 to 17 in its ongoing trials in early April. The study initially started last September 2020 and had been limited to adults aged 18 to 55 as well as those 65 and older. No results have been released yet.

Halperin says getting children vaccinated will be beneficial “from a practical standpoint.” At this point, once borders open for fully vaccinated travellers, it’s likely parents will either have to leave their children behind or not travel at all unless further exemptions are made.

“Or if they say (…) unimmunized children are OK to travel,” says Halperin. “Then you have the concern of ‘Where am I going? Is the virus circulating there? Do I want to bring my children with me if they’re not immunized?’”

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15 Comments
  • Bob Johnson says:

    Miranda, you say “federal government,” yet give the reader absolutely no clue as to what country you mean. There are approximately 200 countries in the world. So, give your readers answers, not just more questions.

  • Anonymous says:

    My daughter was vaccinated with Moderna back in May when the guidelines were those born in 2003 were eligible for the vaccine (she was born in Aug 2003). She is being denied a second vaccine because the direction has changed to you must be 18 at the time of your vaccination. She is also not eligible for Pfizer because there are no studies on mixing the two vaccines for her age group. So she is stuck until she either turns 18 or Moderna is approved for 12-17 year olds.

  • Pam says:

    We have family in the US wanting to come home to Alberta to visit. However their children are too young to get vaccinated so they have to quarantine but their parents don’t??? This doesn’t make any sense! Children don’t get COVID.

    • Rosemary says:

      Children can get Covid … however they tend to have lesser symptoms but are definite carriers if exposed to the virus. Children carriers can infect others who are more at risk of serious health consequences. Not all countries will be willing to take the risk of letting kids into the country when the majority of their population is not yet fully vaccinated. Quarantining kids AND their parents (even if fully vaccinated) is entirely reasonable.

    • Edan says:

      Hello Pam.

      Children could get a differing form of Coronavirus. Coronavirus mutates quickly. No brainer right?

      It is not unreasonable to theorize that the DNA of Coronavirus could change.

      Meaning, that the lock and key fit Coronavirus requires to enter the cell of a child could match, and in not so much time.

      I’m not a scientist, but I am not ignorant either.

  • Jim smith says:

    If the family is fully vaccinated and have a child that is under age and doesn’t qualify,they don’t get sick and can’t spread to vaccinated people anyway.
    How do you discriminate age them…
    This would make no sense.
    Some of our politicians forget they represent these families as well.
    For the people that think it’s wrong stay home and lock your door I’m sure you will be safe in your little world.

    • Rosemary says:

      Who says kids CAN’T spread virus? Asymptomatic spread has been a concern from the start. Kids are a petrie dish of viruses and bacteria. Having teachers in the family we all know this well as our teachers are sick practically 5 months a year with something or other coming from the kids they teach. As for Covid… if travelling to see family and family is all fully vaccinated fine if everyone is good with that. But who is to say that visitors from another country will not want to go to restaurants etc. It’s also true for all Canadian children until we have a vaccine for them. Once school starts we will see about the spread of
      Delta in unvaccinated kids. We are only blessed that if they do get the virus they are not as symptomatic, but it doesn’t mean they can’t spread it to someone more vulnerable. Distancing and masking will continue to be wise precaution until this pandemic and the VOC’s are contained.

  • Christina says:

    The current statement from the World Health Organizationis that children under 18 years of age should not receive the vaccine; Read it for yourself:
    Children should not be vaccinated for the moment.
    There is not yet enough evidence on the use of vaccines against COVID-19 in children to make recommendations for children to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Children and adolescents tend to have milder disease compared to adults. However, children should continue to have the recommended childhood vaccines..

  • Reggie says:

    I looked at the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program COVID-19 study protocol. They collect data about kids with COVID who are sick, but not about those who are not. How will they be able to calculate rate of illness from COVID diagnosis? They also don’t specify a cycle threshold for PCR test diagnoses. In other words, the study will find who is getting sick from COVID, but not who is not – a biased perspective. Any scientific study should explore falsifiable hypotheses, looking for evidence for and against. This study seems to be designed to find evidence only for disease, not health. Without collecting evidence showing how much kids naturally resist COVID, we can’t properly know how vulnerable they are.

  • LN says:

    These are new vaccines. The long-term side-effects are unknown at this point.
    Young people and children have a very, very small chance of severe illness or death from Covid-19. Why subject them to possible serious complications from the vaccine? I suggest we press ‘pause’ until a lot more is known about the safety and long-term consequences of the vaccine in this age group.

  • Y. Cunnington says:

    This is reckless. What about the CDC’s investigation of myocarditis? The CDC is collecting data about the serious heart complications now being experienced by adolescent recipients of the COVID injections and has called an emergency meeting for discussion. There have been deaths.

    Children’s risk of death from COVID is virtually zero. Kids are being exposed to the risk of the COVID shots without having any personal risk to offset. Vaccinating kids using an emergency-use program is a violation of medical ethics and the Nuremberg Code.

    • J Gill says:

      There have been zero deaths due to myocarditis due to a covid vaccine and that with over 3 billion doses given out.
      Please stop spreading Misinformation.

      There have been millions of deaths due to covid. Children are also dying from covid. Misinformation like your post doesn’t help.

      • Lynn says:

        326 kids have died from covid in the US. Most of which had pre existing conditions. I would support the vaccine for those under 18 with pre existing conditions not healthy kids. Google the Emergency meeting the CDC held on June 23rd. Scroll down and Look at estimated ICU admissions vs estimated mycarditis cases for the age group 12-17. Unfortunately they are pretty close, 71 vs 56-69. That does not take into account that the majority of ICU admissions for people under 17 have pre existing conditions. Based on that data I think CDC should follow what WHO is recommending – that only those under 18 with pre existing conditions should be vaccinated.

Author

Miranda Caley

Editorial Intern

Miranda Caley is a fourth-year journalism student with a minor in women’s and gender studies. Originally from Newfoundland, she moved to Ottawa for her studies to learn about the rich and diverse cultures across Canada.

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