The first COVID-19 vaccinations for Manitoba children aged five to 11 will begin being administered on Thursday and the provincial government says it expects a large majority of the 125,000 children in that age group to receive the vaccine.
Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children in that age group Nov. 19 after reviewing data from clinical trials and more than 15,000 appointments were already booked in Manitoba as of 1 p.m. Nov. 22, the province’s vaccination task force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer said at a news conference on Monday.
Shipments of the vaccine are due to arrive in Winnipeg on Wednesday.
At the moment, appointments for children aged five to 11 can only be booked at vaccination sites run by the province but they will soon be available through pharmacies and clinics as well.
Expanding vaccine eligibility down to those as young as five is “a major milestone in our collective fight against the virus,” Reimer said.
Clinical trials in children showed that the vaccine was 90.7 per cent effective and Reimer said no serious side effects were identified during trials.
“The decision to vaccinate a child provides more benefits and fewer risks than the decision to not vaccinate a child,” she said.
Two doses of 10 micrograms apiece – one-third as much as the dose for adults – will be required for a child to be considered fully vaccinated.
The recommendation is for the doses to be spaced eight weeks apart from most children as this provides a stronger and longer-lasting immune response.
However, for children living on-reserve, a shorter interval will be used to ensure they get more protection faster as they are more at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee urged First Nations families to have their children aged five to 11 vaccinated in a Nov. 23 press release.
“We know from data gathered by the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Co-ordination Team that First Nations people have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus,” Settee said. “Given this information, MKO strongly encourages caregivers to take their children to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.”
About 6,000 children in this age group have had COVID-19, Reimer said, and 27 required hospitalization with seven admitted to intensive care. She also said she expects that once more people below 12 are vaccinated, there will be fewer outbreaks at elementary schools, based on what has happened in higher grades, in which all students are eligible for vaccination.
“We’ve seen this huge drop in the high school situation,” Reimer said.
While increasing the number of Manitobans who can be vaccinated should help reduce transmission of the virus, Reimer said achieving herd immunity would probably require 90 per cent or more of all Manitobans in all age groups being fully vaccinated.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever hit textbook herd immunity,” she said.