As Canada’s health regulator considers approving the first COVID-19 vaccine for younger children, many Toronto parents are faced with the choice of whether to roll up their children’s sleeves and get them immunized when the time comes.
Vaccine maker Pfizer and its partner BioNTech recently asked Health Canada to approve a pediatric version of its mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11. If given the green light, the shot would be the first offering for millions of children under 11 years of age in Canada who are currently unvaccinated.
Arafat Jahan Bashar said she would get both her three- and six-year-old daughters immunized if the vaccine is considered safe and effective for their age groups.
“If there are no side effects, if it protects her, for sure,” Bashar said. “If the younger children get some form of protection against this virus, I think it’s a good thing.”
The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which is already approved for people over 12 years of age, has been shown to lead to a strong immune response in school-age children, according to a clinical trial with more than 2,200 participants, the companies said last month in a Press release. The doses for children aged 5 to 11 years are about one-third of the size given to adults and children aged 12 years and over.
However, not all parents are fully convinced that vaccination right away is the right choice for their children.
Grace Salazar, the mother of a two-year-old and a six-year-old, said she worries that her children are experiencing side effects.
“I am worried about the children [and] what they feel if they have a vaccine, “Salazar said.
Common side effects of COVID-19 vaccines include injection site soreness, headache, nausea, and fever, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). These tend to be temporary, experts say the end result of protection against COVID-19 is worth the discomfort.
PHAC has noted over 800 cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, among people who received an mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, especially among young men and adolescents. However, it is a very rare side effect that can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, according to Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
Vaccination of children can bring an end to this pandemic: expert
Banerji said approving a vaccine for young children would be “hugely important” because they represent the largest group of unvaccinated people who spend time in ward relationships while in school.
Children under the age of 11 make up about 15 percent of all those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Toronto since the fourth wave began in early July, according to data from Toronto Public Health, which is twice as large as the previous three waves.
However, school-age children continue to experience a lower risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Only one person under the age of 18 has died due to complications caused by COVID-19 in the city since the beginning of the pandemic.
During the fourth wave, eight children 11 and younger have been admitted due to COVID-19, one of whom was treated in an intensive care unit. In comparison, 149 people aged 50 to 69 were hospitalized at the same time, of which 40 needed intensive care.
Despite this lower risk, Banerji said vaccinating children will not only protect them from the most severe symptoms of COVID-19, but also reduce the risk of an infected child transmitting the new coronavirus to classmates or a vulnerable family member.
At a societal level, Banerji said vaccination of children will reduce the spread of the virus and bring the community closer to reaching herd immunity – the point where so many people are immune to the virus that it cannot continue to spread.
“That means that possibly in the future, instead of having a big fifth wave, there may slowly be an end to this.”