Alberta vaccine timelines raise questions on when children could get the jab

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All Alberta adults will able to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced earlier this week, with potential for that timeline to accelerate even further.

But when will those under the age of 18 be able to get the jab?

The answer will depend on results from clinical trials by vaccine producers, according to University of Manitoba virologist Jason Kindrachuk.

“Now we need to figure out whether vaccines are efficacious in kids,” Kindrachuk said. “I think we’re looking at probably within, I would say the next few months, we should have data about what the efficacy looks like in kids. And that’s really the question mark.

“While kids in many ways have immune systems that function very similar to adults, they also function very differently. That puts us in a position of not being able to say perfectly whether or not the vaccine that’s good for adults, at the same dosage, will be good for kids.”

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Health Canada has authorized the use of four vaccines in Canada: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Each are only approved for use in adults, except for Pfizer, which has the green light for those ages 16 and up.

Enrolment for clinical trials is ongoing for Pfizer and Moderna. It takes time to complete due diligence for vaccines, Kindrachuk said, and much more data is needed for children.

Students at Stanley Jones School head into classes on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. It was the first day for Calgary Board of Education students starting back amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students at Stanley Jones School head into classes on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. It was the first day for Calgary Board of Education students starting back amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

The highest priority groups for vaccination are also seniors and those with underlying health conditions, he added. While some cases of severe COVID-19 have been seen in children, the age group is at a significantly lower risk for those outcomes.

Alberta has among the highest proportions of children in Canada, with those under 18 making up about 22 per cent of the province’s population.

Infection or immunization levels to reach herd immunity for COVID-19 are estimated at about 65 to 70 per cent based on observed transmission patterns, Kindrachuk said. Up to 90 per cent of Alberta adults would have to be immunized to reach hit that mark if children do not receive the vaccine.

“There is the question of how we’re going to achieve this, and is this achievable, and without kids, can we get enough people to take up the vaccine to reach that? Certainly, I think we’re still quite optimistic about that, ” he said.

“(In Alberta), by June or late-June for everybody getting their first vaccine, hopefully we’ll have some data by that point to at least have that next age group, the 12-18 year olds, which allows us to get at another percentage of the population.”

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COVID-19 cases in adolescents are back in the spotlight in Alberta, as the province has seen a “small increase” in infections of those aged 5-19 in recent days, according to chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Those cases have forced one Calgary high school to temporarily move its classes online. Bowness High School will shift to online learning until March 17 after an outbreak at the school.

Answering a reporter’s question Friday, Shandro said Alberta public-health officials would continue to examine the evidence for when it may be safe to give vaccine to children.

“We’ll continue to look at the research with Dr. Hinshaw, get her advice and the advice in the vaccine advisory committee — an advisory committee of scientists and doctors — to be able to give us the advice as to if and when we can provide these vaccine candidates to people who are under the age of 18,” he said.

Vaccine rate slows as Alberta tallies another 451 cases

Alberta administered another 6,955 shots of COVID-19 vaccine Friday, the lowest single-day count since eligibility expanded to those born in 1946 and earlier on Feb. 24.

To date, 282,674 jabs have been given, and 90,824 Albertans are fully immunized after receiving both necessary shots. Among Alberta adults, 5.6 per cent have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Another 341 new cases of the virus were also reported in Alberta from 8,142 tests. That represents a 4.2 per cent positivity rate, in line with the seven-day average.

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The province reported one death Saturday, a woman in her 80s linked to an outbreak at the Aspen House long-term care facility in Morinville. It’s the fewest number of deaths from COVID-19 Alberta has reported in a single day in 2021. The province’s toll from the virus sits at 1,914.

There are now 247 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 42 of whom are in intensive-care units. It’s a slight uptick in total hospitalizations from Friday, when 243 were receiving acute-care treatment.

Cases of the more-contagious variants of the virus rose sharply Saturday, with 36 new cases detected. All were the B.1.1.7 strain, first found in the United Kingdom. There are 599 total cases of variants in the province. Alberta Health declined to provide details on how many of those cases remain active.

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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