Will Canada achieve herd immunity by vaccinating children?
On November 23rd, the first children between the ages of 5 and 11 received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario.
The government hopes that by vaccinating younger children, the country will soon reach the necessary percentage of vaccinated citizens to achieve herd immunity.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many experts suggested that herd immunity would be achieved when 70% of the population was fully vaccinated. However, according to CBC News, health experts say that the threshold must be higher due to the highly contagious delta variant.
CBC News spoke to Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, who said,
"...the fact that we're here now with delta, which is so much more transmissible, means that we need a herd immunity of closer to 90 percent, 95 percent."
Pictured: Toronto Mayor John Tory at the "selfie station" at a vaccine clinic in Toronto.
According to the news outlet, Canada has a long way to go to achieve such high numbers. Per CBC's vaccine tracker, on November 26th, only 79.2% of the population, five years and older, were fully vaccinated.
Doctors realize that many parents are nervous about getting their children vaccinated even if they themselves are fully vaccinated. Medical professionals hope that as more and more children get vaccinated, parents will see that it is safe.
Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal cardiologist with a degree in epidemiology, told CBC, "I'm hoping a lot of that is going to go away once they see that there don't appear to be major side-effects going on with this vaccine."
Two weeks after the United States began vaccinating children ages 5-11, Canada followed suit and approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children.
Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Health Minister, told CBC's 'Power & Politics' that children would begin to receive their first dose of the vaccine by the end of last week of November. Mr. Duclos said, "I have spoken to almost all of my colleagues in different provinces and territories and they are well prepared."
According to Global News, British Columbia stated that the province will begin vaccinating children on November 29th.
Per CBC News, Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi stated that there will be enough vaccines in Canada "to provide a first dose to every eligible Canadian child."
Tassi also told the news outlet that the Canadian government and Pfizer had agreed upon an "accelerated delivery schedule" and that more than 2.9 million doses of the orange-lidded children's vaccines were to be shipped by Sunday the 21st of November.
Christine Elliott, the health minister of Ontario, said, per Global News, "We expect to have our provincial booking tool up and ready very early next week."
Photo: screenshot Global National News
Hospitals were prepared even before the vaccine was approved with children's vaccination areas for youngsters to get their COVID jab. Here we see Sudha Kutty, Vice President of Strategy and External Relations at Humber River Hospital, in the hospital's new children's vaccination area.
Dr. Anna Wolak told Global News that as a parent, she was thrilled that her children could finally be protected against COVID-19. Saying, "As a parent, all you want to do is protect your kids....The science has been there but being unable to access it has been like sheer torture."
Photo: screenshot Global National News
Regarding the spacing between the first dose and the second dose of the vaccine, Health Canada and The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) have different recommendations.
Health Canada has authorized that the second dose of the vaccine be administered just three weeks after the first. However, NACI recommends that there be at least eight weeks between doses.
According to CBC News, The National Advisory Committee has found that a longer spacing between the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine "generates a more robust immune response."
It is also believed that there is less chance of the already rare side effect of myocarditis by leaving more time between vaccines. According to NACI, this rare side effect, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle, has sporadically affected some teenagers and young adults.
One week after Jeff Zients announced that the United States would begin vaccinating children the campaign was in full swing.
On Monday, the 8th of November, the campaign was in full force, and children around the country were getting vaccinated. Many parents are relieved to have their children protected against the terrible virus that has been attacking the world for nearly the past two years.
While children often are asymptomatic carriers of the illness and rarely become seriously ill due to Covid-19, the chance of hospitalization and complications due to the coronavirus are still there.
By vaccinating their children, parents at least have the opportunity to protect their children. However, some parents are understandably hesitant about giving their children this new vaccine, even if they themselves have been vaccinated.
NPR reported that Pfizer carried out a clinical trial on around 4000 children between the ages of 5-11, and the vaccine was found to be safe and 91% effective at preventing Covid-19.
In addition, according to NPR, since the pandemic began, there have been nearly 200 deaths and 8000 hospitalizations of children in this age group in the United States. The potential lasting effects of the illness particularly concern the medical community.
NPR also reported that thus far, there have not been any cases of myocarditis in the 5-11 age group, and the most common side effects are a sore are and sometimes headache or fatigue. So it does indeed seem that the benefits of vaccinating children far outweigh the risks.
Even though we've been hearing a lot about the United States vaccinating the 5-11 age group, it isn't the first country to vaccinate children. According to the BBC, China began to vaccinate children ages 3-17 with Sinovac in June.
In September, the BBC also reported that the same vaccine, Sinovac, was approved for use from 6 years of age onwards in Chile.
CNN reported that Cuba also began to vaccinate children as young as two years in September using their own "homegrown" vaccine. The news outlet also reported that Cuba aimed to vaccinate more than 90% of the population by November 2021.
So how did the United States decide to vaccinate the 5-11 age group? Click on to read about the progression of the vaccination process of children in the United States and if it is an ethical choice when many poorer countries cannot vaccinate their adult population.
On November 1st, 2021, Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said that the Covid-19 vaccine program for children ages 5-11 would be "fully up and running" by next week.
In fact, the Biden administration expected the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to approve Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine for children later that same week.
In Mr. Zients' (pictured) official White House statement he said, "As we await the CDC decision, we are not waiting on the operations and logistics. In fact, we’ve been preparing for weeks."
According to Zients' briefing, the Biden administration transferred 15 million vaccine doses from Pfizer to prepare for the immunization of children in various locations such as paediatricians' offices, hospitals, health centres, and pharmacies.
Mr. Zients explained the purpose of offering the vaccine at a variety of areas saying, "This will give parents a broad range of options to get their kids vaccinated and ensure all children, including those without primary care doctors — those most at-risk — have easy and convenient access to vaccines."
Zients went on the say that pending CDC approval, the first vaccinations of youngsters ages 5-11 would begin the first week of November and that by November 8th, the program would be fully operational.
Mr. Zients said, "So, starting the week of November 8th, the kids’ vaccination program will be fully up and running. Parents will be able to schedule appointments at convenient sites they know and trust to get their kids vaccinated."
The United States has obtained enough doses of Pfizer to vaccinate the 28 million children between the ages 5-11 that live in the country, according to Zients' statement.
While this will undoubtedly put many American parents' minds at ease, one can't help but ask, "Should vaccinating low-risk children against COVID be the priority when many countries have not yet been able to vaccinate their adult population?"
Photo by Jeyaratnam Caniceus on Pixabay
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 70 countries only have 1/5 of their adult population fully vaccinated.
We know now more than ever that viruses do not respect borders. By not assisting poorer countries with their vaccination process allows new variants to develop, as has occurred with the DELTA variant.
According to the New York Times, another way to look at the statistics is that only 50.8% of the world population has received the Covid-19 vaccine. Unfortunately, vaccines doses are still scarce globally, and demand will most likely continue to beat out supply until the end of 2021.
In addition, many countries are worried about the immunity of the fully-vaccinated lowering with time. So countries such as Canada, the United States, Spain, and Israel have also begun to administer booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable.
WHO recommends that "While the supply of vaccines is limited, the ongoing priority is to vaccinate those most at risk of serious illness who still have not been vaccinated in many parts of the world: older people, those with chronic health conditions, and health workers."
In the majority of poorer countries, herd immunity is but a very distant dream still. According to the New York Times World Vaccine Tracker, many countries are far behind in vaccination and are desperate for help.
For example, in Haiti only 0,3% of the population has been fully vaccinated, in the Congo only 0,1%, Ethiopia 1.1%, Uganda, 0,9%, Syria 2,4%, or Nicaragua 5,5%.
For the less affluent countries of the world, the only way to obtain vaccines is through the vaccine sharing program led by WHO called Covax.
According to the New York Times, the program was set to "provide two billion doses by the end of the year but has repeatedly cut its forecasts because of production problems, export bans and vaccine hoarding by wealthy nations."
Undoubtedly, by beginning the vaccination of younger children in rich countries, the vaccines available for donation will become more scarce.
According to WHO, "Most children are at low risk of serious disease and vaccinating them is primarily about reducing transmission, which can also be achieved through public health measures, including: physically distancing from others, cleaning hands frequently, sneezing and coughing into their elbow, wearing a mask if age appropriate and avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated spaces."
So, if children are of low risk and their vaccination is mainly about reducing transmission, why is the United States in such a hurry?
Thus far, according to the New York Times, around 76% of vaccines shots globally have been given to those in the wealthiest countries, and only 0,6% have been administered in poorer countries.