This week, we discuss many questions surrounding the COVID vaccine for kids 11 to 5 years!
I hope you are having a lovely week so far and enjoyed your Halloween. Look how far we have come? Last year very few people considered Trick or Treating!
Let’s jump right into it. Today I am going to answer a ton of questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for kids. As always, thank you so much for sharing the newsletter with friends and family. It is my hope that we can spread evidence-based information together.
We will review the bad news, the good news, and the most commonly asked questions of the week. Finally, I will end on my silver lining.
Dr. Dina, what is the bad news?
There have been over 245 MILLION cases of COVID reported worldwide, with almost 5 million deaths.
We have seen 1.7 million cases in Canada, with almost 29,000 deaths.
Vaccine mandates remain a point of contention for some Canadians. While almost 85% of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated, the number of unvaccinated healthcare and education workers is enough to cause significant disruptions. Gaps from unvaccinated health care workers continue to increase health care provider stress and burnout. A new role in Cabinet was created to address the mental health of health care providers. The Canadian Medical Association is calling on health ministers to address this crisis.
While cases are generally declining across Canada, in British Columbia, hospitalizations from COVID reached a 5-month high last week, with over 420 people hospitalized. Over 150 people are in ICUs. The province announced it will be offering vaccine boosters for everyone 12 years and older in 2022.
To add to the stress, more than 4,000 health care workers in BC failed to get even one dose of COVID vaccine and have been placed on unpaid leave.
The situation in Alberta remains concerning. According to the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), there were at least 135 situations where no ambulances were available to respond (red alerts or code reds) between late August and mid-October. Why were no ambulances available? Because there were 290 unfilled paramedic shifts in Alberta last week.
Sadly, low vaccine rates in Central and Eastern Europe are leading to record daily infection rates and deaths, particularly in Russia and Ukraine.
What is the good news?
COVID is slowly retreating across much of North America and South America, with the lowest infection and death rates reported last week in over a year.
Almost 50% of the entire world’s population is partially vaccinated, and nearly 40% are fully vaccinated. That’s almost 7 BILLION vaccines. Read that again, as it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be real. But it is. Half of the world!
In Canada, 89% of eligible people (12 years and older) have received the first dose, and 84% are fully vaccinated.
The most common questions of the week:
Does the vaccine increase the risk of miscarriage in the first trimester?
There is a lot of fake data and misinformation about this topic. Luckily the New England Journal of Medicine published last week a study that found no correlation between miscarriages in the first trimester and recent vaccination with the Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccine.
Only 68% of pregnant individuals have had the first dose, and less than 60% are fully vaccinated, as of October 3, 2021. Pregnant individuals are at higher risk for hospitalization, ICU admission, mechanical ventilation, and death from COVID-19. Vaccination remains an essential means of protection.
What is the plan for the COVID vaccine for kids?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine for kids 5-11. A few days prior, the independent vaccine advisory committee voted 17-0 (with one abstention) to recommend the vaccine for this age group. Panel members were swayed by data from the CDC showing that kids 5-11 are “at least as likely” as adults to contract COVID-19 and that hospitalization rates are three times higher among children of color than among white children.
The CDC’s vaccine advisers are meeting this week to evaluate the vaccine for kids and are expected to vote in favor of its use. But, before the immunization rolls out, the final step will be a formal endorsement by the CDC Director, Rochelle Walensky.
Moderna announced that their low-dose vaccine is safe and effective as well. However, their data has not yet been submitted for FDA or Health Canada approval.
What do we know about the vaccine trials?
We don’t know too much about the vaccine yet in kids, though the FDA and Health Canada are reviewing the data now. However, we know the vaccine produces antibodies and decreases the risk of infection by 91%.
Children aged 5-11 were given 1/3 dose that adults receive. Children can provide a more robust immune response, and a smaller quantity can offer the same level of protection as adults get from a larger dose.
The lower dose may lead to fewer side effects as well.
Did they rush the trials?
I am asked this often. Anything going through Health Canada approval will follow the same process that other vaccines and medications do. The evidence will be thoroughly reviewed.
The vaccines came to be not due to a lackadaisical rush but rather a concerted and global effort through collaboration.
There is considerable public health and scientific scrutiny here. Public Health has kids’ and families’ best interests in mind.
Moderna has been working on mRNA vaccines for over a decade. mRNA technology has been studied since the 1980s! So while these vaccines are new, the science has been evolving my whole life.
Side note: one of the co-founders of Moderna, Dr. Noubar Afeyan, went to McGill University. This podcast is fascinating.
Isn’t the risk of COVID in kids smaller than the risk from the vaccine?
It is true the vast majority of kids with COVID stay very healthy. However, when we see more cases of COVID-19, we see more kids get sick. And some kids will get very ill, and some children have died. Multi-system inflammatory syndrome, for example, is a rare side effect of COVID that we want to avoid.
New variants are still a possibility, and vaccination helps prevent this ever-remaining threat.
Consider another previously common and primarily benign illness: chickenpox. I had chickenpox, and you probably did as well. Unfortunately, though most kids who got chickenpox remained well, some children became very sick, and some died, particularly immunocompromised children.
Now we have a varicella vaccine to prevent chickenpox which helps to keep more kids safe. It keeps individuals safe and communities safe.
Why might someone want to give the COVID vaccine to their child?
Numerous surveys have been completed on this topic, and I have many conversations a day with families. What do people say? Parents who plan to vaccinate their kids want to protect their child from COVID and hope this will lead to a resumption of ‘regular’ or ‘normal’ life and activities.
Many parents feel it will take a weight off their (and their kids’) shoulders. They will breathe a sigh of relief.
What are some reasons parents are hesitant to vaccine their children?
Some families are more hesitant to vaccinate if/when it is approved. Most parents tell me they are worried about potential side effects or feel the risk of COVID-19 for their children is smaller than the theoretical risk from the vaccines. Some parents tell me they want more data, more or more extensive trials, or more time to see how kids do once they get the shot.
This is similar to what we heard when the vaccines were first offered to adults and teens. Luckily, most people stay very healthy post-vaccine, and now our vaccination rates are among the highest in the world and our COVID rates among the lowest.
Do you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and your child?
Sick Kids is offering a COVID-19 vaccine consult service. Pediatric registered nurses will answer any questions you have about the COVID-19 vaccines. It is by appointment and provides a safe, judgment-free space to have an open conversation about the vaccine for children. It is available in multiple languages and is free to use.
Silver lining of the week
Like many of you, I became more attuned to the weather, the sun, nature, and exercise opportunities outdoors through the pandemic. So, while I am starting to feel a nip in the air, we continue to savor the relatively nice weather as long as possible. There is nothing quite like the fresh Fall air and the sights and smells of the leaves turning orange and red. Plus, who doesn’t love Halloween?
Have a wonderful week, everyone!
Dina is a wife, mother of 4, and adrenaline junky. She loves to share children’s health information from her professional and personal experience. More About Dr Dina.