Quebec predicts it will vaccinate kids 'before Christmas,' with groundwork already laid

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No one knows when Canadian regulators will sign off on COVID-19 vaccines for children five to 11, but Quebec leaders are feeling optimistic it will be soon.

U.S. regulators approved use of the Pfizer vaccine for American kids on Friday.

In a press conference Tuesday, Quebec's director of pandemic management, Daniel Paré, said he expects to have vaccinations available to younger schoolchildren "before Christmas."

"As we know, schools end around the 21st of December," he said.

"So we want to make sure to be there in schools, and also offer vaccination in our major vaccination centres, as we did for the teenagers."

That pre-Christmas estimate includes the time necessary to put the gears of a vaccine campaign into motion: procuring and distributing the shots, and setting up sites or visiting nurses to give them.

The province is hard at work on the last part, Paré said. While waiting for news from Health Canada, health officials have been talking to school boards and service centres to be able to line up a quick turnaround: about a week.

"Basically, as soon as we receive confirmation from Santé Canada and and... accreditation from our [immunization committee]," he said, "plus or minus a week after that, we should be able to start the vaccination, if the vaccines are there."

Several schools are already setting things up, using old conference rooms and other spaces, he said, saying they're "almost ready to go."

As for when Health Canada's decision will come, experts there have given other reasons to hope for news soon.

Pfizer submitted its trial data for kids a little later to Canada than it did to the U.S.

But Health Canada's chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, told media on Friday that the agency sat in on the day of expert testimony provided to the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is in charge of U.S. drug approvals.

Health Canada does its own, independent deliberations, but will factor in the information from those testimonies, said Sharma.

While she said it's "going well," she added that "I can't see a decision before mid to the end of November.”

If and when approval arrives, Quebec and other provinces will not be able to use the Pfizer doses they already have on hand. There's a different formulation for children with a smaller amount of the vaccine, meaning they'll have to be shipped.

--With files from The Canadian Press

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