Canada’s health regulator is expected to authorize Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids between the ages of 5 and 11 – bringing a welcome sigh of relief to families across the country.
Three sources told The Globe and Mail on Thursday the decision from Health Canada is expected on Friday. The Globe is not identifying the individuals because they were not permitted to disclose the internal plans.
The expected approval will come slightly more than two weeks after children in that age group started getting their shots in the United States and as data from the Public Health Agency of Canada show the incidence of COVID-19 cases is now highest among children. So far in Canada, vaccines have been approved and made available only for people 12 and older.
The government has previously said that shipments of the pediatric vaccines will follow soon after Health Canada’s regulatory authorization of the shot. The timing of the announcement on Friday was first reported by the Toronto Star.
Pfizer submitted its application for a vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds on Oct. 18. Officials with Health Canada will provide an update at 10 a.m. on Friday, according to a government press release. At the same time officials will release an update on the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s recommendations on the use of the vaccine.
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For people already eligible for the vaccines, the independent advisory committee has recommended a longer interval between the two doses than that authorized by Health Canada because more recent studies show it affords individuals more protection from COVID-19.
In its October update, the advisory committee recommended an eight-week interval between first and second shots for mRNA vaccines, including Pfizer’s.
Pfizer’s submission to Health Canada for its pediatric vaccine is based on a three-week interval between the shots.
In October the federal government announced that Canada would receive 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer shot – enough for all eligible children to get their first dose – soon after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine gets the green light from Health Canada.
On Nov. 3, Pfizer Canada spokesperson Christina Antoniou told The Globe the company is “prepared to deliver the pediatric vaccine doses to Canada as soon as we receive Health Canada authorization.” On Thursday Ms. Antoniou said she couldn’t provide more specifics on the timing of deliveries.
The federal government has said that the speed of second-dose deliveries will depend on how fast first shots are administered.
The governments in Quebec and Ontario were not able to say Thursday whether their vaccine passports for non-essential businesses will also apply to the younger age groups once they are eligible for the shots. Spokespeople for both provinces said more information will be made available in the days or weeks after Health Canada makes its announcement.
In Ontario, the vaccine passport applies to people 12 and older; in Quebec it applies to people 13 and older. Last week both Alberta and Manitoba said children there will be exempt from the vaccine passports.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott on Thursday called reports about Health Canada’s imminent approval of Pfizer’s vaccine for children a “bright light at the end of the tunnel.” She said it could take between a few days and a week to get the doses in the province.
The Ontario government has been criticized by opposition parties for not releasing a provincewide plan for pediatric vaccinations. In contrast B.C. has already been allowing families to preregister their kids for the shots. Ms. Elliott said that as soon as supply is received, the province’s 34 public-health units will be ready to administer the vaccine, with each releasing their own plans and some offering preregistration locally.
Last week Toronto said its COVID-19 vaccination plan for children will include clinics at schools, doctors’ offices and in the community. On Thursday, Ottawa’s public-health unit said first shots for all 77,000 eligible children will be available “within four weeks of the vaccine authorization and delivery.”
According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, 90 per cent of eligible people have received their first shot of the vaccine and 86 per cent are fully vaccinated.
With a report from Laura Stone and Robert Fife.
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