Advocacy groups press governments to speed up rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for children

CALGARY — The federal government has promised that all Canadians who want a COVID-19 vaccine should be able to receive one by late September, but a large group still won’t be eligible.

According to child advocacy group, Children First Canada (CFC), there are almost eight million kids under 18 that live in the country who won’t be eligible for a vaccine.

“Kids represent nearly a quarter of our population and not including them in the vaccine rollout plans or prioritizing them for clinical trials let alone the rollout has been a misstep on the part of governments and the private sector,” said Sara Austin, CFC Founder and CEO.

“Vaccines play an important role in children being able to move safely within their community but also being able to travel and visit extended family members.”

According to the Alberta government, about 840,000 children aged 0 to 14-years-old live in the province, which represents about 19 per cent of the total population.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro has promised that all adults in the province will be eligible to receive their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine by June 30, although there are no plans yet to vaccinate children.

“Now that we have had a lot of approvals of these first four vaccines in Canada in particular, we’ll continue to look at the research,” Shandro said.

“We will work with the vaccine advisory committee of scientists and doctors to be able to give us the advice on if and when we can provide these vaccine candidates to people who are under the age of 18.”

Shandro added that the focus right now is on lowering hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Alberta, noting that the average age of a person hospitalized is 60-years-old.

CONCERNED PARENTS

The lack of a vaccine for children is creating anxiety for parents who wish to travel with their children in the future and allow them to enjoy their everyday activities.

Tammarra Francis is a mother of two young boys, Porter (13) and Elliot (10).

“My kids are both in swimming and there’s been no update at all and I know they’re really looking forward to getting back into it and back into just training, competitions,” she said. “They can’t do either of those until they’re vaccinated or things start to open up.”

Kids, advocacy, Tammarra,Francis

“We want to make sure everybody is healthy and everybody is vaccinated and we can all just continue to live and thrive and go through this.”

Francis added that the mental health of her kids has taken a toll and she hopes a vaccine for kids will help bring some normalcy, especially in the classroom.

“They’re not getting the extra help when they need it and I also think it’s really important to have that interaction with other students in those classrooms, it helps build those relationships and personalities.”

Other parents like Rob Gosling agreed.

I know kids tend to not to be quite the vectors that the adults and stuff are, they seem to have a bit more immunity but I think they definitely need to be vaccinated down the road,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mike Desjardine who is also a father to a 7-year-old boy understands that kids will have to wait longer to receive a vaccine.

“I understand they are lower on the list and I understand that too because you have older people or people who have health issues that definitely should be first,” Desjardine said.

“So I think once we get them vaccinated, if we find something that is safe for kids then absolutely we should be looking at those options.”

CHILDREN’S COVID-19 VACCINE TRIALS UNDERWAY

Both Pfizer and Moderna have begun testing their COVID-19 vaccines on children 12 to 15 years-old, with results expected sometime this summer.

A COVID-19 vaccine for children however isn’t likely to be approved until sometime in 2022, according to Infectious Disease Expert at the University of Alberta, Dr. Lynora Saxinger.

“The reason that the vaccine development focused on adults is adults are in the realm of 50 to 100 times more likely to require hospitalization and have severe outcomes from COVID,” she said.

“Of course we occasionally see those rare cases in kids so there’s lots of good reasons to extend the vaccines to kids as soon as we have that data.”

Saxinger added that about 70 per cent or greater of the population would need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. She noted that vaccine trials are also underway for kids aged five and up which started back in December.

“It’s not that we don’t think these vaccines won’t work,” she said. “It’s that we need to demonstrate that they work and that the side effect profile and everything else are comparable in kids to adults.”

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