Children under 12 now make up the largest number of new COVID-19 infections as health officials say vaccinations for the age group are still weeks away.
Infections in that age group surpassed those of all other age groups for the first time in the fourth wave of the pandemic, Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) officials revealed Friday.
“It’s not an unexpected pattern given the high level of vaccination in the other age groups,” said Dr. Theresa Tam during a news conference.
“I think the key is that, in general, (with this age group) they have milder illnesses, but there are occasional or rare aspects of severe outcomes. But very rarely do they result in death.”
The statistics come as Health Canada continues to review data from Pfizer regarding its vaccine for children five to 11. The United States has begun to inoculate millions of children after approving the shots earlier this week.
The Canadian government has ordered 2.9 million doses of the children’s vaccine in anticipation of approval, which Tam said could come within weeks.
“I would say to all parents that Health Canada regulators are working extremely hard to prioritize the review for this vaccine. They need to do due diligence but it will be in weeks and not months,” she said, clarifying an incorrect Twitter post published by Health Canada earlier this week, which was later taken down.
In new COVID-19 projections released Friday, PHAC officials called for increased vaccination among those who interact with children under 12 in order to protect them from COVID-19.
“This is why, beyond protecting individuals against severe outcomes and easing the strain on the health system, increasing vaccination coverage across the community is also important for helping to limit spread to children who are too young to be vaccinated, and thereby to reduce spread into schools and beyond,” officials said.
“In particular, for young adults who are parents or close contacts of children under 12 years of age, getting vaccinated is an important way to contribute to their protection against COVID-19 and to help keep them in school and doing the activities they love.”
The majority of cases among children do not involve severe illness, officials said. Fewer than one per cent of children and youth up under 19 years of age have been severely sick with COVID-19. To date, more than 350,000 cases have been reported in that age range.
During the fourth wave, a majority of outbreaks in schools and daycares across the country were small in size and involved children under 12.
Yet the frequency of those outbreaks appears to follow trends within the community, with the number of cases peaking at almost the same time as community incidents in waves three and four, officials said.
“Encouragingly, several key features of outbreaks involving children indicate sensitive monitoring and a positive impact of vaccination and infection prevention and control measures that are being employed to keep these settings safer, while striving to keep them open for the benefit of children,” officials said.
Most outbreaks among young children have been small, involving fewer than four cases. There were fewer school outbreak-associated cases occurring in the 12-to-17-year age group, which is reporting more vaccination.
Overall, more than 58.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across Canada since vaccination began last December. Roughly 89 per cent of the eligible population is partially vaccinated, and about 84 per cent of the eligible population is fully inoculated.
FOURTH WAVE FALL CONTINUES
Nationally, the growth rate of cases continues to drop, but the decline has slowed, officials said.
Over the past week, there were an average of 2,230 new cases being reported daily across Canada, which is about half from the peak of the fourth wave when more than 4,400 cases emerged every day.
Furthermore, the number of COVID-19 patients with severe illness has decreased over the past three weeks. On average last week, fewer than 1,950 people were being treated in hospitals each day, including just under 600 in intensive care units, and 27 deaths were reported daily.
Tam lauded Canada’s vaccination coverage, but there’s roughly 5.5 million Canadians who are eligible but not yet fully vaccinated. That, coupled with vaccine disparities across the country, means resurgences are still possible as winter settles in.
“Now is not the time to let our guard down. We could still be in for a challenging winter,” Tam said.
PHAC’s long-term forecast suggests cases could continue to decline in the coming months if current levels of transmission are maintained, but if measures are eased cases will shoot back up.
Furthermore, if other jurisdictions impose more public health measures, national cases could drop even further.
With those measures in place this winter, when other respiration illnesses like the flu reemerge, Canadians will be more protected from COVID-19, PHAC said.
“This fall and winter, the same as we layer up for warmth, Canadians are urged to layer protections against respiratory infections,” officials said.
“Get your COVID-19 vaccines, annual flu shot, and other routine vaccines as an essential base layer of protection. Wear face masks, improve indoor ventilation, and avoid crowding for added protection, and keep following local public health advice, as COVID activity is not the same everywhere.”