First COVID-19 vaccine for youngest children in Canada could be approved this month

The first COVID-19 shot for children under five could end up being approved this month in Canada. It’s a decision some B.C. families have been waiting for, but with lower uptake for shots for other kids in the province, some health professionals are hoping the roll-out for this last and youngest age group will be different.

COVID-19 vaccines for children under five have already been approved in the U.S., and now Health Canada expects to make a decision on Moderna’s shot for those aged six months to five years in mid-July.

Vancouver-based family physician Dr. Anna Wolak said she’s hearing from families who fall into two distinct camps.

“One camp is the ‘Finally, thank goodness, we’ve been waiting for so long,’” she said. “There are the parents that are in the other camp of ‘Well, they’re so little, and do we really need this’… I have to balance their anxiety and balance as well knowing that this is what we need to protect our little ones, because this is the one thing that they can have.”

The most recent group of children in B.C. to have COVID-19 vaccinations approved were five- to 11-year-olds last fall, but the uptake has been lower than other age groups: as of late June, 58 per cent had one dose, and 45 per cent had two.

UBC Okanagan School of Nursing professor Marie Tarrant said she’s hoping the rollout for the younger age group gets better results.

“I think with the older children there’s a couple of factors that probably made the coverage less than it could have been,” she said. “I think it could have been rolled out through the schools.”

Tarrant said messaging that the virus is milder in children may also have had an impact on the numbers.

“It still can be a very serious illness in children,” she said. “It has a lot of implications for other family members, for school attendance, for daycare attendance, and anytime you have children out of school or daycare, that means parents have to come out of the workforce to take care of them.”

Tarrant added the province could also incorporate places where families with young children already go, such as public health units and doctors offices, to make vaccination as accessible as possible.

“The other thing we have to think of is that a lot of kids have already had Omicron…and so parents may be under the misperception that they’ve had it and that gave them immunity and they don’t need to get vaccinated,” she said. “Whereas we know that infection with Omicron and one version of Omicron does not protect them against another variant and the new variants that are coming along.”

Dr. Wolak is also hoping to see the shots available in doctor’s offices, as well as a return of kid-focused community clinics.

“A lot can be said about those conversations you have with the anxious child, the anxious parent in your office and being able to say, I’m just going to go run to the fridge and go grab it and we can do it right there and then,” she said. “Hopefully by beginning of August, it will be out at all the provinces, and we can start getting these kids protected in time for preschool and September start.”

Wolak added it’s important for people to seek out a reputable source to inform themselves about the vaccine for young children.

“The general message I give to people is don’t go to TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Talk to a trusted medical advisor,” she said. “ I think we’re coming to the acceptance that herd immunity is not going to be something that we’re going to achieve now. But what we need to look at is, we want to keep people as protected as possible from serious illness and from any repercussions from that.”

In an email, the Ministry of Health said if Moderna succeeds in getting Health Canada approval, the government “would be prepared to offer the Moderna vaccine to children between six months and five years old in B.C.”.

“The province continues to make efforts to see a higher level of vaccination in children aged 5-11,” the ministry said. “We continue to be focused on providing vaccines to every eligible person in the province.”

Moderna has applied for its under-six vaccine to be given in two doses about four weeks apart. Each would be a quarter of an adult dose.

Pfizer also made a submission in June which has yet to be reviewed.