Manitoba announces plan for vaccinating kids aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 once approved
With Health Canada currently reviewing COVID-19 vaccines for kids aged five to 11, the Manitoba government has announced some details about its plan to get this age group immunized.
On Wednesday, Manitoba health officials announced that Health Canada will likely approve the vaccine for children aged five to 11 by the end of this month, and Manitoba has been told to expect a sufficient supply.
This means the province will likely not have to prioritize vaccine doses; however, planning is underway if this turns not out to be the case.
“The time is now to start having family conversations about how vaccination works and about how it helps keep people safe and healthy if you have young children in your home or if you care for young children,” said Health Minister Audrey Gordon at a news conference on Wednesday.
Once the vaccine doses arrive in the province, the government expects it will take about a week to ship to the different sites around the province. Gordon noted the first doses of the pediatric version of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to be available in Manitoba as early as one week after the vaccine’s approval.
The vaccines will be available for kids aged five to 11 at many locations, including First Nations communities, urban Indigenous clinics, regional vaccine clinics, and schools. Physicians, pediatricians, and pharmacists will also be able to administer the vaccine to kids.
“Walk-ins would also be an option at some locations and in schools vaccination would be offered both during and after school hours,” the health minister said.
“We want to be able to meet parents and families where they’re at.”
Gordon noted that the Manitoba government has put a policy change in place to allow pharmacists to immunize all kids in the five to 11 age group.
“They will also be able to vaccinate children in this age group, not just for COVID, but also for influenza, when, of course, the vaccine is available and approved,” she said, adding that previously pharmacists could only vaccinate kids aged seven or older.
A Government of Manitoba slide gives information about COVID-19 cases among children during the pandemic. (source: Government of Manitoba).
The five to 11 age group will be able to access vaccine appointments by contacting health-care providers, doctors or pharmacies, or by using the online vaccine finder.
To book at regional or urban Indigenous clinics, Manitobans will be able to use existing resources including the online booking system and the vaccine call centre. More details on booking appointments will be available following the vaccine approval and delivery.
The province said that consent will be required for every vaccination for the five to 11 age group, regardless of the setting.
Health officials noted that they have engaged with many stakeholders in planning this vaccine rollout, including First Nations partners, Manitoba families, Manitoba Education, pediatric medical leadership, as well as physicians and pharmacists.
On Tuesday, Health Canada received Moderna’s submission to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged six to 11. This review is being prioritized alongside the ongoing review of the Pfizer vaccine for kids aged five to 11.
Health Canada’s approval will be followed by an approval from the National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI).
“When these announcements come, we will be absolutely ready to protect kids through the immunization campaign,” Gordon said.
The pediatric dose of Pfizer is one-third of the dose that is used for older youth and adults.
COVID-19 IN KIDS
Gordon said that in the 2021-22 school year, 13 school outbreaks in children aged five to 11 have resulted in a shift to remote learning.
She said more than 6,000 children aged five to 11 have tested positive for COVID-19 in Manitoba since the start of the pandemic. Twenty-seven of these children have been hospitalized with COVID-19, seven of whom were admitted to the ICU.
Gordon noted that one child in this age group died from COVID-19.
“Although children and youth are less likely than adults to get critically ill from COVID-19, they can still get sick, spread the virus to others at school and in the community and experience long-term negative health outcomes from the virus,” she said.
At the news conference on Wednesday, Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the Vaccine Implementation Task Force, reminded parents that the vaccine can’t give their kids COVID-19 and it can’t change their child’s DNA.
She noted that Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology is well understood, studied, and is safe.
“In fact, Messenger RNA is something that our bodies use naturally all the time to produce the proteins that we need to live,” Reimer said.
“The only difference this time is that the Messenger RNA comes from an outside source.”
Reimer added that before approving the use of a vaccine, Health Canada conducts a “rigorous” scientific review of medical evidence.
“No steps are skipped in this process,” she said.
“What does happen is that Health Canada is reviewing the data in real-time, instead of waiting for all of the findings to be submitted at the end. This helps their review to occur a lot faster…the same is true for the pediatric vaccine.”
Reimer said Health Canada is expected to approve the vaccine if it doesn’t find any major safety concerns and if it determines the vaccine is effective. The federal agency will continue to monitor and evaluate data even after the vaccine’s approval.
“No vaccine can be 100 per cent effective, but it does give very high levels of protection, preventing severe outcomes extremely well,” she said.