Province unveils vaccine plans for children ages 5 to 11

Doctor Tania Diener explains the province's planned rollout of COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 in this Facebook Live screenshot.

Months after the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for children 12 to 19 and in anticipation of a federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine for younger children, Saskatchewan announced its plan for getting vaccinations to children.

Although children are less likely to be very ill, they can and have been hospitalized and died after getting the virus, said Dr. Tania Diener, Medical Health Officer responsible for immunization and physician co-lead of SHA’s COVID-19 immunization campaign.

“Once this vaccine is approved by Health Canada, our intent is to provide the vaccine to all kids five to 11 in this province who would like to receive it in a safe, efficient and supportive manner,” she added.

Dinner said vaccinating children helps protect everyone and the health care system, which is currently so strained by COVID patients that multiple COVID ICU patients have been transferred to Ontario for care. As of Tuesday, roughly 72 per cent of all hospitalized patients were unvaccinated.

The vaccine still has to receive approval by Health Canada before it can be rolled out, but Saskatchewan has ordered 112,000 doses. That’s enough for each child in the 5 to 11 age range to have their first dose if they choose.

The province is anticipating starting first dose vaccinations in mid-November/December and second doses should happen in January, said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Chief Medical Health Officer for Saskatchewan.

While younger children are less likely to get seriously ill, recent numbers show an increase of younger people hospitalized with the virus, including 15 under the age of 12.  Three Saskatchewan children under the age of 12 have died after contracting the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Since March of 2020, 124 children and youth have ended up in the hospital after contracting the disease with 20 entering the ICU.

While younger children are less likely to develop serious illness they are getting sick and playing a role in the transmission of the virus, health officials say.

Case numbers starting at the beginning of Sept. and running until Oct. 14, show that 48 per cent of the spread in those 18 and younger is at home and 23 per cent is at school. Another 18 per cent contracted the virus in a community setting.

“Although children for the most part are at lower risk of being seriously ill, they can still be hospitalized, they can still suffer from serious complications. And unfortunately, kids have died in Canada due to COVID disease,” said Denier.

Children most at risk for serious illness include those with respiratory conditions or cardiovascular conditions.

She said that children being vaccinated is important to allow them to have a full social life.

Even if children are asymptomatic, they still spread the virus to others and vaccinating them will have an impact on larger society, Diener said. 

The trial ran by Pfizer included  2,268 children aged five to 11 with doses of 0.2 mL of the vaccine given in two shots. Older children received 0.3 mL of vaccine.

The children in the study showed the expected side effects of soreness at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and chills that resolved in one or two days.

Immune response was “very good” when they received the doses at the recommended 21 days interval with a 90.7 vaccine efficacy seven days after the second dose.

The province is hoping and planning for all eligible children to be vaccinated, despite the fact that Sask. has the lowest per capita rate of uptake in the already eligible ages.

“We are encouraging all five to 11-year-olds to get a vaccine when available,” said Sheila Anderson, Vaccine Chief responsible for SHA’s COVID-19 immunization campaign

Clinics will be designed to allow the parent or guardian to help the child and clinical experts will be on site to answer questions from both parents and children and more time will be given to allow for children or parents who are anxious.

Parental consent is required for children 12 and under to be vaccinated in Saskatchewan.

About 190 clinics are currently planned in 100 communities and will be targeted for places where children “live, learn and play,” said Anderson, and both walk-in and appointment clinics will be available.

Pharmacists can vaccinate children in this age group as well.

First doses hopefully in November, December second doses early in the new year.