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Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is not approved for Canadians under 16. Here’s why

Click to play video: 'Talk of coronavirus ‘immunity passports’ in Ontario' Talk of coronavirus ‘immunity passports’ in Ontario
WATCH: Questions have been on the rise as to whether or not residents may have to show proof that they have had a COVID-19 vaccine once it is available in Ontario. – Dec 9, 2020

Canadians under the age of 16 are not authorized to use the newly-approved coronavirus vaccine, Health Canada officials said on Wednesday.

This is because of a lack of data on how Pfizer’s injection affects younger Canadians, Health Canada’s chief medical advisor explained.

“The authorization is for people over the age of 16,” Dr. Supriya Sharma told reporters.

“In the clinical trials, there were some participants that were younger than that – so from the ages of 12 to 15 – that were added when that was expanded in terms of the clinical trials, but those numbers were very small.”

Read more: Canada approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, will start administering ‘within days’

This lack of data means more research will be required to determine whether kids and teens can safely use the vaccine. However, there’s still time for that work to be done – though officials shed no details on Wednesday as to what the plans may be for undertaking that work.

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Over 6.4 million Canadian citizens are under the age of 16, according to Statistics Canada. That’s just shy of 17 per cent of Canada’s population — a large chunk of Canadians that won’t be able to be vaccinated with the currently-approved vaccine.

Canada is currently evaluating three other vaccine candidates – from Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – but it’s unclear whether any of those will be safe for Canada’s younger population.

Children are not currently on the priority list to receive the vaccine, which will start arriving in Canada in the coming days. That list includes those working or living in senior’s residences, as well as Canadians over the age of 80, front-line health-care workers and adults living in Indigenous communities.

An initial shipment of up to 249,000 doses is expected to arrive before the end of the month, and is intended to inoculate around 124,500 Canadians working in front-line health care and in long-term care. Each Canadian will require two doses of the vaccine, delivered three weeks apart.

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Health Canada also explained on Wednesday that it expects immunization for all Canadians to begin in April, with the immunization campaign completing at the end of next year.

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Speaking Wednesday, Sharma said that this is “a momentous occasion.”

“I mean, the geek in me is amazed. No one would have thought, even when we looked back at the first discovery of the virus, that less than a year later we’d be authorizing and then distributing a vaccine,” Sharma said.

“It’s an exceptional day for Canada.”

However, additional questions still remain unanswered with respect to the vaccine. The next steps for immunizing those under the age of 16 is still unclear, as well as the plans for inoculating those who are allergic to the Pfizer vaccine’s ingredients.

As it stands now, Sharma said those with allergies to the vaccine’s active ingredient or any of the vaccine’s other ingredients “should not take it.”

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Additionally, there is still more research required with respect to the longevity of the protection afforded by the newly-approved vaccine – though Sharma said that there are promising early findings in this area.

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“We know that the vaccine seems to be quite effective, at a level of about 95 per cent in the data that we’ve seen so far. The question will be then — when we continue to follow those patients — whether or not people need to be re-vaccinated at any point in time,” Sharma said.

“I have to say so far, from the data, it does look like that immunity is continuing. And certainly from some of the earlier animal data in the pre-clinical trials, it looks like it is conferring longer-range immunity. But that’s something that’s an ongoing question.”

She said that while Wednesday’s news of the approval is positive, there is still more work to be done.

“In a year where we haven’t had a lot of good news, this is a bit of good news,” Sharma said.

“I think we should take a moment to acknowledge that — and then we’re all going to get back to work.”

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