Health Canada says comments it made on Twitter on Tuesday, which said its review of a COVID-19 vaccine for children would take months, were incorrect and the post was deleted. Instead the regulator says the review will “take weeks, not months.”
The comments drew the ire of parents who on the same day saw regulators in the United States approve the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children aged 5 to 11. NBC News reported that the first shots were already being administered on Wednesday.
The tweet thread from Health Canada on Tuesday said that Pfizer’s submission “will be reviewed over the coming months.” The post was removed late Tuesday night because it was wrong, spokesperson Eric Morrissette said on Wednesday.
It took the regulator more than 19 hours to post the accurate information on its social-media account.
“The tweet was indeed an error (both in content and the fact that it was posted as a reply to a old tweet) and therefore was taken down,” Mr. Morrissette said in a statement. He added that comments made last week by Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser, Supriya Sharma, are still the most accurate information about when Canadian children will be able to get their shots.
On Friday, Dr. Sharma pegged the timing for a decision on the vaccine’s use in children at a matter of weeks, rather than months.
“We’re still at least a few weeks away from a final decision,” she said adding that Pfizer was still submitting new information and saying that its application in Canada was submitted after it sent its application to U.S. regulators.
“I can’t see a decision before mid- to the end of November,” Dr. Sharma said. “Certainly, again, it depends on the data.”
“One of the things that we’re really careful about is that we know that when we’re making decisions, especially about our most vulnerable precious commodity, our children, is that people want to make sure that we have confidence in the review and the submission and that we have that information available so people can weigh those risks and benefits,” Dr. Sharma said.
The pediatric COVID-19 vaccine differs slightly from Pfizer-BioNTech’s adult formulation. For that reason, the company will need to deliver new vials of the vaccine before Canadian children can get their shot. In the U.S., the vaccination campaign for newly eligible children is expected to reach its full pace next week.
The federal government has said that soon after Health Canada approves the vaccine, Pfizer will deliver 2.9 million child-size doses of the new formulation. That is enough to cover first doses for all children between 5 and 11. On Wednesday, Pfizer Canada spokesperson Christina Antoniou said the company is “prepared to deliver the pediatric vaccine doses to Canada as soon as we receive Health Canada authorization.”
So far, Health Canada has approved COVID-19 vaccines for people 12 and older. Among the eligible population, the website COVID-19 Vaccination Tracker shows that 89 per cent of people have received their first shot and 85 per cent have received their second shot.
Data from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that the vast majority of people still getting sick with COVID-19 in Canada are unvaccinated. Similarly, the vast majority of people who need to be hospitalized because of the disease or who die from it are unvaccinated.
In its series of corrected tweets on Wednesday, Health Canada underscored its focus on vaccine safety, saying it “authorizes all COVID-19 vaccines only after independent and thorough scientific reviews for safety, efficacy and quality.”
With reports from The Canadian Press and Reuters
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