Pediatric, medical experts tackle COVID-19 vaccine questions, concerns during town hall

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for kids age five to 11 is safe and effective.

That was the message a panel of medical experts, including Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force, had for parents during a Doctors of Manitoba virtual town hall on Tuesday evening.

As of Monday, Reimer said the province has administered at least 11,212 vaccine doses to kids in that age range since first doses were made available last Thursday.

That number makes up approximately nine per cent of all Manitoba children age 5 to 11 that have already received their first dose, which is one-third the dosage given to anyone 12 years of age and up.

Reimer expects that number will only continue to rise over the coming weeks, especially as the vaccine is made available in more pharmacies and pediatric clinics.

“It’s been really impressive the way so many people have come together on this,” she said.

There have been about 17,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Manitoba kids in this age group, but according to Dr. Jared Bullard, section head of pediatric infectious diseases and associate medical director of the Cadham Provincial Labratory, the seroprevalence data— which represents the number of people with antibodies to the virus— estimates that number in the range of 165,000 to 180,000 cases.

Without COVID measures, he said both those numbers would be higher, including a significant increase in the number of COVID-related deaths among five- to 11-year-olds. To date, three children in the province have died of COVID or COVID-related complications, according to Dr. Bullard. 

Children with autoimmune diseases are among those at a higher risk of contracting the virus, but a 91 per cent efficacy rate for this age group is something all of the panellists agreed is very promising.

Among the questions Doctors Manitoba discussed pertained to heart concerns stemming from the vaccine in the 12- to 17-year-old range.

Reimer said she hadn’t come across any such concerns in kids age  five to 11, and neither had Dr. Ruth Grimes, president of the Canadian Paediatric Society.

“We do know that those individuals who have developed myocarditis or pericarditis have had very mild symptoms, have typically not required hospitalization …” Grimes said.

Dr. Ruth Grimes is president of the Canadian Paediatric Society. (Zoom)

Questions pertaining to long-term safety and potential impacts of a child’s development and future fertility were also addressed.

Reimer said bodies infected with COVID might have long-term consequences stemming from the damage right at the outset, but it’s not as if there would be any sudden “long-term surprise side effects” for kids.

“Even with an infection, your immune system isn’t 20 years later going to suddenly remember that infection and react to something unexpected and cause damage 20 years down the line,” she said.

Manitoba Pediatric Society President Dr. Marni Hanna was also quick to state that by receiving a dose of the vaccine, there is no mechanism by which this would alter a child’s development.

“If you get really, really sick, in a child that can lead to developmental delays. It really makes a lot more sense to get the vaccine,” Hanna said.

Dr. Marni Hanna is the president of the Manitoba Pediatric Society. (Zoom)

She also pointed out there when it comes to fertility or puberty concerns, there is “no evidence at all that there is any issues with getting the vaccine — for boys or girls.” 

The panel also reminded parents to try and stretch the time between the first and second doses to eight weeks, even though Health Canada has said it’s OK for the shots to be administered as soon as three weeks apart.

The only difference is in First Nations communities, where Reimer encourage kids age five to 11 to receive their doses closer together.

Omicron variant 

Unlike other parts of Canada, the omicron variant has yet to be detected in Manitoba.

That doesn’t mean Manitobans of all ages should continue to put off COVID vaccines and booster shots.

“There’s going to be more variants, and the vaccines might get tailored maybe some day in the future … 

“Don’t hold back on being as fully protected as you can be because regardless of whether this variant ends up being really concerning or not, the vaccine that we have right now is still your best tool to protect yourself,” Reimer said.

She said it’s evident experts are worried about the omicron variant, but at this stage it’s unknown how much more transmissible — if any — it is compared to other coronavirus variants.

“We don’t know the impact that it will have on how well the vaccine works, but what we do know is that the vaccine will work against this variant,” Reimer said.

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