Health Canada approves Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for children
Health Canada on Friday officially approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for children aged five to 11, calling it a “major milestone.”
Health Canada authorized a two-dose regimen to be administered three weeks apart. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), however, is recommending that the spacing between doses be increased to at least eight weeks, as evidence has been growing that a longer interval generates a more robust immune response.
Several provinces and territories, responsible for administering the vaccine, have been making preparations for delivery in recent weeks.
Dr. Michelle Barton-Forbes is an associate professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in London Ont., who specializes in pediatric infectious disease. She said this could be a game-changer for Canada’s pandemic response.
“So ultimately, not only will we help to keep kids from acute COVID-19 and its consequences, we will keep kids healthy and we will also keep them happy as they are allowed to do in-class learning and extracurricular activities.”
Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric vaccine is delivered in doses one-third the size of those given to adults and kids 12 and older, slightly different than the Moderna vaccine for young kids that will soon be considered by regulators. The company told CBC News it expects about three million doses will be in Canada by the end of next week.
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have resulted in race cases of heart inflammation among adolescents and young adults, primarily male, that adverse but non-fatal outcome was not detected in clinical trials of the young children. Health Canada chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma pointed out at a briefing on Friday that the risk of those heart inflammations like myocarditis can be as much as 20 times higher for those who contract COVID-19.
“It is brilliant that we have this vaccine for kids,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist and microbiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.
Although COVID-19 isn’t usually as serious in children as it is in older adults, she said, it is a “non-trivial disease. It’s something most parents will want their children well-protected from.”
“Whatever proportion of kids get vaccinated will create a significant reduction in transmission and just let us all get back to something closer to normal,” McGeer said.
Many parents were elated by the development, although overall there may be more opposition to vaccinating the youngest eligible Canadians compared to adults.
The Angus Reid Institute released the findings of a survey last month indicating that 51 per cent of respondents would get their child vaccinated as soon as possible, 18 per cent said they would but not right away and 23 per cent were adamant they would not do so. The research organization found there were noticeable differences based on the income and educational attainment of respondents, and that opposition to vaccinating children was more pronounced in Alberta, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
In Ontario, where the province said Friday there are about one million children whose birthdays fall between the new ages of eligibility, a recent poll from Forum Research found 70 per cent of respondents would get their children vaccinated at some point, while 10 per cent don’t ever plan to.
While some jurisdictions in the U.S. have planned to invoke vaccine mandates regarding young children, it doesn’t appear in Canada that any provinces are anxious to do so.
Hear more from a pediatrician http://cbc.ca/1.6222183 on how they think health officials in Canada can optimize the inoculation campaign with children.
From The National
Ottawa confirms it will nix COVID-19 test for Canadians taking short trips, starting Nov. 30
Fully vaccinated Canadians taking short trips abroad will no longer need proof of a negative COVID-19 test to return home beginning Nov. 30, Ottawa confirmed at a news conference on Friday.
The federal government said the test exemption will apply to fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents who depart and re-enter Canada within 72 hours. The rule will also apply to unvaccinated people with a right of entry if they are under the age of 12 and accompanied by their fully vaccinated parents or have certain medical conditions preventing them from being vaccinated.
For now, Canadians returning from longer trips and all foreign travellers entering Canada will still have to show proof of a negative molecular test taken within 72 hours of their departing flight or planned arrival at the land border.
The government said travellers taking shorter trips carry less risk.
“If a Canadian wanted to go across for a quick shopping trip in the U.S., maybe get some cheap gas or whatever … the actual risk for for themselves as well as obviously when they come back to Canada is pretty minimal,” said Dr Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer.
The government’s announcement that it will drop the test requirement for Canadians taking short trips follows weeks of lobbying from politicians, the tourism industry, seniors and business groups for Ottawa to drop the requirement for all vaccinated travellers.
Prices for molecular tests — such as the popular PCR test — can range from $150 to $300, making travelling abroad cost-prohibitive for some people.
Several observers also pointed to inconsistencies. When fully vaccinated Canadians cross into the U.S. by land, they face no test requirement, while air passengers to the U.S. must show proof of a negative COVID-19 antigen test.
The government also announced it will expand its list of accepted vaccines for travellers. Starting on Nov. 30, Canada will recognize as fully vaccinated those who were inoculated with World Health Organization approved vaccines Sinopharm, Sinovac and COVAXIN, referring to vaccines from China and India.
On another front, the government said as of Jan. 15, certain groups of travellers who are currently exempt from certain entry requirements will only be allowed to enter Canada if they are fully vaccinated. Those groups include individuals reuniting with family, international students, professional athletes, temporary foreign workers and essential service workers including truck drivers.
“With more Canadians getting vaccinated every day, we can move forward cautiously toward a more open border economy and society. At the same time, we can’t let our guard down,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.
For Camille Armour, who lives in Windsor, Ont., and has a fiancé in Toledo, Ohio, it provided relief in sight.
“It feels like we’re getting back to normal,” she said.
World roundup: COVID-19 developments in Austria, Africa
In Austria, a national lockdown and a plan to mandate vaccinations as coronavirus infections remain very high was announced Friday, forcing the government to walk back promises that such blanket shutdowns were a thing of the past.
The moves come as vaccinations in Austria have plateaued at one of the lowest rates in Western Europe and as hospitals in heavily hit states have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity. Not quite 66 per cent of Austria’s 8.9 million people are fully vaccinated, according to government figures.
For the past seven days, the country has reported more than 10,000 new infection cases daily. (See the chart below for Austria’s COVID-19 progression)
Earlier this month, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg indicated a full lockdown would not be needed and instead imposed the restrictions only on those not vaccinated.
The lockdown will start Monday and initially will last for 10 day.
In Africa, there was fear among health officials when the coronavirus emerged last year that it would sweep across the continent, killing millions. Although it’s still unclear what COVID-19’s ultimate toll will be, that catastrophic scenario has yet to materialize in much of the continent.
There is something “mysterious” going on in Africa that is puzzling scientists, said Wafaa El-Sadr, chair of global health at Columbia University.
“Africa doesn’t have the vaccines and the resources to fight COVID-19 that they have in Europe and the U.S., but somehow they seem to be doing better.”
Fewer than six per cent of people in Africa are vaccinated. For months, the WHO has described Africa as “one of the least-affected regions in the world” in its weekly pandemic reports.
But WHO data show that deaths in Africa make up just three per cent of the global total. In comparison, deaths in the Americas and Europe account for 46 and 29 per cent respectively.
Some researchers say the continent’s younger population — the average age is 20 versus about 43 in Western Europe — in addition to their lower rates of urbanization and tendency to spend time outdoors, may have spared it the more lethal effects of the virus so far. Several studies are probing whether there might be other explanations, including genetic reasons or exposure to other diseases.
Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, said African leaders haven’t received the credit they deserve for acting quickly, citing Mali’s decision to close its borders before COVID-19 even arrived.
“I think there’s a different cultural approach in Africa, where these countries have approached COVID with a sense of humility because they’ve experienced things like Ebola, polio and malaria,” Sridhar said.
Scientists emphasize that obtaining accurate COVID-19 data, particularly in African countries with patchy surveillance, is extremely difficult, and warn that declining coronavirus trends could easily be reversed.
For example, the coronavirus is estimated to have killed more than 89,000 people in South Africa, by far the most deaths on the continent. But it has been suggested through an examination of excess deaths that the coronavirus is responsible for many more deaths.
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