A look at when Canada could start administering COVID-19 vaccines to teens, children

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As vaccines to protect against the novel coronavirus continue to be administered across the country, one question remains unanswered — when will shots be approved for children and when will kids be vaccinated?

On Sunday U.S. Dr. Anthony Fauci said high school students in America will “very likely be able to be vaccinated by the fall term.”

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He said elementary school children in the U.S. would likely be ready to receive vaccinations by the first quarter of 2022 once studies on the safety of the vaccine are completed.

However, in Canada, no vaccines have been approved for use in children younger than 16 years of age.

Health Canada says it is waiting on data from the vaccine manufacturers before it approves any shot for use in children.

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Here’s a closer look at what’s going on in Canada.

Vaccines approved

To date, Health Canada has approved four vaccines for use in Canada.

In December, the regulatory body approved two mRNA vaccines — one from Pfizer-BioNTech, the other from Moderna.

Last month, a shot from AstraZeneca was given the green light, and in early March, a shot from Johnson & Johnson was given the OK for use in Canada.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can be used in anyone 16 and older, Health Canada says, while the other three shots have been approved for adults 18 and up.

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By Saturday morning, 2,830,586 doses of the approved COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Canada.

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That means approximately 3.79 per cent of the country’s population is now vaccinated against the virus.

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Trials underway

Speaking to reporters earlier this month after the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Health Canada’s chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma said a clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in children aged 12 to 17 had been authorized by the agency.

“This will be important research to support vaccine availability for all Canadians of all ages,” she said.

Sharma said the clinical trial from Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, is the first trial Health Canada has authorized in younger adults that includes Canadian sites. It has not yet begun recruiting patients.

The other vaccine manufacturers are either looking into beginning clinical trials in children or have already started, Sharma confirmed.

“So the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines, with respect to their clinical trials in younger-age adults — and that’s 12 to 15 for Pfizer, 12 to 17 for Moderna — have clinical trials that are ongoing, that actually finished recruiting patients into the clinical trials,” she continued. “So they’re the ones that are most far — they’re the furthest advanced in that.”

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Sharma said AstraZeneca has also started a clinical trial to test its vaccine in younger age groups.

However, she said she expects Health Canada will receive data from Pfizer and Moderna first “because their trials in children are most advanced.”

Global News reached out to both Pfizer and Moderna to determine when exactly the data from those trials will be shared with Health Canada, but did not hear back by publication.

But, on Thursday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he expects younger teens to be eligible for the vaccine in the fall, and elementary school students by the end of the year.

Bourla said the company plans to submit the data for children between the ages of 12 and 16 very soon.

He added that data for children aged five to 11 can be expected year-end.

Timeline?

Asked by reporters whether Health Canada could approve a vaccine for use in children before school begins in the fall of 2021, Sharma said that timeline “may be a bit optimistic.”

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“So the trials in children tend to be a bit slower to get up and running in terms of recruiting individuals,” she said. “And then, of course, we have to conduct the trials and then take that information and assess that.”

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She said it’s “not inconceivable that we might have some data in the summer.”

“And potentially by the end of this calendar year, we might have some indications in children, but … that’s still pretty optimistic.”

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She said Health Canada is not expecting results from the Jannsen clinical trial until 2022.

“So potentially by the end of the calendar year we might have some answers for children, but it really will depend on how those clinical trials are conducted and most importantly the results that we get from them,” she said.

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In a previous interview with Global News, Dr. Karina Top, a pediatric and infectious disease physician at IWK Health Cente in Halifax and vaccine researcher at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology, said children are lower on the priority list for COVID-19 vaccines because they have less severe outcomes when they contract the virus, and because they have a lower transmission rate.

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“Fortunately, COVID is generally or almost always a very mild disease in children,” Top told Global News.

“And young children (don’t) contribute to the spread of COVID as much as adults or older age groups,” she continued. “So for that reason, the focus has been on vaccinating the older populations and then working our way down in age groups to protect the most vulnerable.”

Read more: Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

As of Friday, a total of 152,578 cases of the novel coronavirus had been reported in those under 19 years of age.

That means approximately 16.9 per cent of Canada’s total coronavirus infections have been detected in children and teenagers.

–With files from Global News’ Marney Blunt

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.