Alberta Health Services is encouraging parents to register children for their COVID-19 vaccination following Health Canada’s approval of the Pfizer shot for kids aged 5 to 11 on Friday.
“Appointments will be available as soon as we receive vaccine supply,” the provincial health authority tweeted Friday morning, following the federal announcement.
In a statement to Global News, Pfizer said it is preparing to ship pediatric doses to Canada, “and they should be arriving at vaccination sites across Canada early next week.”
The vaccine manufacturer expected to distribute all 2.9 million doses by the end of next week.
Edmonton mother Desiree Trautman and her eight-year-old son Jensen are excited to now be able to get their entire family vaccinated.
“I felt left out because my family — every one of them had the vaccine,” Jensen told Global News. “I felt like I had a better chance of getting COVID over them.”
Jensen told Global News he feared going to school and tried to avoid going places where he heard others caught the coronavirus. But despite his best efforts, he still caught the virus last month.
“It was very scary, but we are definitely not going to stop getting the vaccine for him,” Desiree said. “We’re hoping that it makes him less nervous at school.”
She said the family hopes to be able to get together with extended family this holiday season once Jensen is vaccinated. Last year they spent Christmas at home.
“I really hope that we can have something a little bit more normal.”
Edmonton pediatrician Dr. Raphael Sharon said he’s still waiting on a decision from AHS and chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on vaccine rollout before Christmas for kids.
“A lot of parents, from what I’ve been hearing in clinic, have been hoping that they can get their kids the vaccine in time for the Christmas gatherings,” Sharon said. “Now from what we’re hearing, they should be able to get their first dose in the next week or two — we don’t know the exact timeline.”
An avid supporter of masking, Jensen expects to gain confidence along with antibodies through vaccination.
“It makes me more comfortable to see the world now.”
Concerns for unvaccinated children
Pfizer’s clinical trial data showed the vaccine had a 91 per cent efficacy against COVID-19 in children aged 5-11. Of the 3,100 children vaccinated as part of the trials, there were no reports of myocarditis, pericarditis or serious allergic reaction.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is advising COVID-19 doses to be spread out by eight weeks, and they’re advising a two week pre- and post-vaccination buffer for any other vaccines, to help medical professionals better identify possible adverse events.
According to a frequently asked questions website for parents from AHS, myocarditis and pericarditis in children from an mRNA vaccination like Pfizer’s is an “extremely rare” side effect.
Sharon said the side effects are expected to be similar to what children 12 and older experienced, adding the dosage for elementary-aged children is one-third that of older children.
“The most common side effects are a local irritation and pain, some mild fever in some kids,” he said.
According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, children have been “relatively spared (from) the direct effects” of a COVID-19 infection, but an infection is not without risk for kids.
Children with underlying conditions like asthma, obesity and neurodevelopmental disorders can result in greater severity. Long COVID and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) are still present concerns.
“For the last maybe two months, almost every day we have a child with MIS-C in the ICU and often we have a child with COVID pneumonia, as well,” Dr. Simon Parsons, an ICU section chief at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, told Global News.
Read more: Alberta expecting pediatric COVID-19 vaccine in coming weeks; shots to be administered by AHS
Parsons said waves of MIS-C cases appear about a month after COVID-19 peaks in the greater community.
“The bigger the peak, the more we see admitted to the ICU post those peaks.”
The pediatric ICU doctor estimated the chance of a child getting MIS-C or COVID pneumonia after getting infected with COVID-19 at about 1 in 1000.
“Is that a good enough reason to have the vaccine? I think so, given the safety profiles of vaccine as we know now,” Parsons said.
“Also importantly, the vaccine that will be soon be available for children will also help limit the spread of infection throughout the community.”
Read more: Approximately 10% of Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccines wasted or expired: government department
The question of natural immunity from a previous COVID-19 infection is addressed by the AHS FAQ.
“While having had the disease offers some protection against future infection, there’s not enough data about that level of protection to know when it tapers off or how protective it is against new variants,” AHS writes. “Getting fully immunized offers the best protection possible from the virus.”
Parsons agrees that children getting both doses of a vaccine is the best way to prevent infection or re-infection.
“I don’t think we realize that there is a real chance your child can get sick from COVID. And it’s certainly I don’t think it’s widely appreciated.”
–with files from Leslie Young & Heather Yourex-West, Global News