It could be a while before children are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Canada, according to experts.
Dr. Karina Top, a pediatric and infectious disease physician at IWK Health Cente in Halifax and vaccine researcher at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, says that despite children being in close contact in school settings, they’re lower on the vaccine priority list due to their transmission rates and less severe outcomes of the virus.
“Fortunately, COVID is generally or almost always a very mild disease in children,” Top told Global News.
“And young children (don’t) contribute to the spread of COVID as much as adults or older age groups. So for that reason, the focus has been on vaccinating the older populations and then working our way down in age groups to protect the most vulnerable.”
Top says a lot needs to happen before children become eligible.
“We would want to see some data in children that shows that the vaccine is safe and effective in children,” she said.
[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]
“And we also need to make sure we vaccinate our higher-risk population, so some of our older adults in long-term care in the community, our essential workers and our adult population, before moving to children.”
Top said some parents may struggle with the idea of getting vaccinated before their kids.
“I think one thing for parents is their instinct is to protect their child first,” she said. “So it’s important for people to be reminded that this is a very mild disease in children, we’re seeing parents get much sicker than the children if it goes through the family and the parents have a much greater risk of contracting and getting infected and spreading it to their children.
“So when their turn (for the vaccine) comes up, they should know that they’ll protect their children by getting themselves vaccinated and hopefully we’ll be able to protect children directly later this year.”
The Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for ages 16 and older, while Moderna’s is approved for ages 18 and up. Both companies are working on clinical trials for children down to the age of 12. Pfizer confirmed to Global News that its COVID-19 vaccine trial for children ages 12 to 15 is now fully enrolled, with 2,259 participants.
“We’d have to have the science and the research done and then someone would have to look at it and evaluate it, and Health Canada would have to have a key role in ensuring it meets their standard for widespread use in children,” Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba CEO and scientific director Dr. Terry Klassen said.
Klassen is working on two studies on the coronavirus and children with the Pediatric Emergency Research Network, an international group of researchers who focus on children visiting emergency departments. The studies focus on risk factors for children with COVID-19 who visit the emergency department, and severe outcomes of COVID-19 in kids.
“As a pediatrician and child health advocate, I think it needs to be seriously considered,” he said. “Obviously you have to weigh the total risk, and it’s appropriate how (the vaccine rollout) is going now. But I always worry that kids are sometimes a therapeutic orphan, that we don’t study things in them.”
While the timelines aren’t set in stone, both researchers say they hope children will be eligible for the vaccine by mid-to-late 2021.
“The target is for 75 per cent of Canadians to be vaccinated by September,” Top said. “So I would assume I hope that children will be included in that and that some children will be able to be vaccinated by this summer or fall.”