Parents and children wanting to know when COVID-19 vaccines could roll out to Canada’s youngest people recently got a glimpse at the answers.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said it is “likely that Pfizer, if all the data is fine, may be the first” vaccine that children and teens could receive.
Pfizer and BioNTech said in a media release on Wednesday that their COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, is safe with “demonstrated 100 per cent efficacy” in preventing the disease in teens aged 12 to 15.
The data hasn’t been peer reviewed or scrutinized by regulators like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada.
In the trial of 2,260 adolescents, there were 18 cases of COVID-19 in the group that got a placebo shot and none among those who received the vaccine.
Side-effects were similar to those reported in clinical trials in adults, such as pain at the injection site, headaches, fever and fatigue.
WATCH | Pfizer’s early data on vaccine for kids:
Sharma said Health Canada will review Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine data on younger teens “in a couple of weeks.” Full data, including on children aged six to 12, is expected in months.
Any approvals will only come after the regulator checks the data for safety, efficacy and quality.
Pfizer’s vaccine has been cleared for people as young as 16 in Canada.
Dr. Noni MacDonald, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Dalhousie University in Halifax who researches vaccine safety, said Pfizer’s research is a “bridging study.”
In a bridging study, researchers check if antibody and cell-based immune responses are equivalent to what’s seen in adults. For Pfizer, they were.
“The results are really very encouraging,” MacDonald said.
Protection for all Canadians
Moderna is also conducting a clinical trial in Canada for children aged five to 11. The results are expected early in 2022. The company also launched a trial in those aged six months to less than 12 in the U.S. in March.
Johnson & Johnson, which recently won approval for its vaccine in adults in Canada and the U.S., expanded its Phase 2 trial for those aged 12 to 17 and plans to include younger children.
AstraZeneca launched in similar trial in February.
But it’s only when vaccines roll out in the real world to children with diabetes, heart disease and other underlying conditions that answers on effectiveness will be clearer.
“We want to protect everybody in our community, even those who cannot be immunized or will not respond to the vaccine,” MacDonald said. “To do that, we need children, we need teenagers, we need young adults, we need middle-aged adults and we need older people.”
Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie working on COVID-19 vaccines at the VIDO lab in Saskatoon, said she’s excited about how the vaccines could help children return to school and sports.
“Children can be infected with the virus and pass on the virus,” Kelvin said. “Even though we might not see clinical disease in kids or the clinical disease might not be as severe as in adults, it’s really important that children are not able to be part of the transmission chain.”
MacDonald hopes vaccines could be ready for younger teens by September, in time for mass immunization programs in school.