WELLINGTON COUNTY – Health Canada approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with a modified dosing formulation, for children aged five to 11 on Nov. 19.
The province released a timeline for booking vaccinations on Nov. 22 stating children aged five to 11 will be eligible to have appointments booked beginning Nov. 23 at 8am through the province’s COVID-19 vaccination portal, through public health units, participating pharmacies, and select primary care providers.
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) received 17,100 child-sized doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Nov. 23, meaning children in the region can be vaccinated starting on Nov. 25 – one day earlier than Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer had predicted.
She anticipates the health unit will eventually receive enough COVID-19 vaccines to cover every child in the health region.
The province is expecting to receive at least one million child-sized doses from the federal government.
The vaccine approved for use in the new age group has been manufactured new – it won’t be taken from current stocks.
“It is not the same strength as what we would give an adult,” Mercer said, adding, “the amount of liquid that’s injected is a little bit less as well.”
Health Canada has approved a dose of 10 micrograms, one-third less than the doses approved for those at least 12 years-of-age.
“It is the Pfizer vaccine, I don’t want people to think that it’s a totally different vaccine, it is not, it is the Pfizer vaccine that has been specially made for children,” she emphasized.
Locally, vaccines will be administered by primary care physicians and practitioners, often within their own practices.
“This plan that we have … is very much based in primary care,” Mercer said.
“The family health teams within the county have organized and are preparing to vaccinate their own children that are on their rosters,” she said, recommending families reach out to their healthcare providers to arrange vaccination.
Some family health care practices will be administering vaccinations at larger venues like the Centre Wellington Community Sportsplex in Fergus.
“It will be the staff and the physicians at the practice, who will be using the space,” Mercer explained.
“It’s a bit different; it’s smaller, it’s child-focused and it’s definitely more primary care focused,” she said.
Some family health teams have partnered with pharmacies, like Fergus’ Pharmasave Trailside Pharmacy, to administer the vaccine.
The Guelph Family Health Team is collaborating with the local health unit to offer a vaccine clinic at Stone Road Mall in Guelph from Nov. 25 to Dec. 16.
The vaccination site, with doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, will be near the elevator and escalator to the lower level of the mall and available Mondays to Thursdays from 1 to 8pm. The clinic is available to any child in the age group, but an appointment needs to be scheduled by WDGPH.
For those without children rostered to a primary care provider like a family physician, WDGPH can be contacted at 1-800-265-7292 extension 7006 to arrange vaccination.
“What we’re really trying to encourage parents to do, is to be ready for your child’s vaccine, because right now we want you to think about it, we want you to do your research … talk to your primary care provider, ask your questions and just be ready to get your children vaccinated,” Mercer said.
She estimates around half of parents will want their children vaccinated right away.
“There’s going to be a big rush,” she said. “We anticipate [being] fairly busy for a couple of weeks and then you’ll see the numbers start to decline.”
According to Mercer, there are 23,500 children in the health unit’s catchment area who are now eligible for vaccination. She anticipates at least 80 per cent, or at least 18,800 children will receive the vaccine. Vaccinations will not be taking place for the newly approved age group during the school day.
“Schools felt that it would be disruptive,” Mercer said.
Currently, for those under Grade 7, vaccinations are not administered to children during school days.
“There’s a lot of reasons for that … one of them is consent and a lot of parents want to be there when their children are vaccinated when they’re younger, so that creates a much different environment … they need that comfort, they need that ability to relax,” Mercer explained.
Current contact tracing and isolation rules surrounding vaccinated and non-vaccinated children in school settings will also apply to the five- to 11-year-old age group.
Asked how she would respond to cautious families wanting to wait on getting a child vaccinated, Mercer said, “these vaccines have been given, to date, to almost two million children in the U.S. so it’s not a vaccine that has just a few hundred thousand doses given.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in five- to 11-year-olds on Oct. 29.
“For the parents who are considering whether to get it or not, I think the alternative is to seriously think about ‘what are the larger ramifications to your child if they get COVID?’”
Mercer strongly advocated for parents to get children vaccinated and encouraged those with questions to consult the WDGPH website for vetted information.
“You can always go and find somebody who is not an expert saying something in the grey literature, but go to reputable sources,” she advised.
Mercer wasn’t able to say how the virus is affecting the five to 11 age group within the health region, but data from Public Health Ontario shows there have been 33,445 children in that age range infected by COVID-19 from Jan. 15 to Nov. 18.
Between Nov. 7 and 13, publicly available WDGPH data shows there were 82 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in the zero to 11 year-old age group in the health region. The weekly case rate peaked for that age range between Sept. 12 and 18, when the rate was 112 per 100,000.