Ask the Pharmacist

Q) What do you think of the possibility that we will soon be able to vaccinate at least some of our kids?

A) This is probably our only hope of getting out of this pandemic and getting back to normal life, or at least a “new” semblance of such. If we allow the disease to run wild, we could achieve the same goal but at the expense of thousands of Canadian lives.

Keep in mind that “getting out of this pandemic” does not mean eradicating COVID-19. It will likely be with us indefinitely, but through the widespread use of vaccines we should be able to drop our precautions as the virus evolves and becomes endemic, much like the influenza virus. We can accomplish this by achieving a goal we have discussed in these articles numerous times before, herd immunity.

This status has proved more elusive than we had originally speculated since the Delta variant is far more contagious than most other viruses we come across. As such, the percentage of the population we need to vaccinate is not the 80% we had originally hoped would be needed but is a number much closer to 90%. This percentage change does not reflect the lack of knowledge on the part of the researchers and scientists as some skeptics believe. Rather, it is due to our slow uptake of vaccinations initially and the more contagious delta variant taking hold of many communities. That level of vaccination is impossible to achieve without bringing children into the fold, even if there was no such thing as an anti-vaxxer.

The recent news that Pfizer plans to ask the FDA in the States for approval to administer a lower dose of its vaccine to those aged 5 to 12 by the end of this month is very exciting. It is also a little daunting undoubtedly for some parents given the fact that giving our kids something “new” (be it an egg, peanut butter, shell fish…) is always a little nerve-wracking and this is especially the case with the COVID vaccines given all of the misinformation that has been spewed forth by social media, our neighbours and fringe “media” outlets.

We should all be able to empathize that for many parents, allowing their kids to be vaccinated with this will be unsettling. However, this is still great news for parents. Delta poses a real and present danger for kids. Yes, the average child is still less likely to get very sick compared to the average adult. Most who become infected are only mildly ill. But more and more kids are getting COVID, and more than a few of them are not faring well. Here are some facts;

· In the U.S., kids now account for more than 20% of new cases each day.
· The number of children under the age of 19 that are currently hospitalized in Alberta has     tripled since early August.
· As of September 10th, there were around 175 kids in NICU’s (intensive care wards for         the young) around the country
· 17 children under the age of 19 have died from COVID.

These are scary numbers and they will get worse as Christmas approaches and the Delta variant spreads unless we take action. Hence the need to find a vaccine for this age group.

Pfizer has been conducting studies on 2,300 kids between the ages of 5 and 11. The researchers were looking for the usual markers of a good drug or vaccine such as “does it work?” and “is it safe?”. They trialled a number of different doses of the vaccine before settling on a 10mg dose, which is 1/3 of the dose used in adults. The vaccine itself is the same, just the dose is changed as is typical when we use adult drugs in kids such as the case with ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Two doses were given at three weeks apart. At this dose, side effects seemed to be very mild and the immune response was as robust as we see in adults. There hasn’t been sufficient time to prove that the vaccine prevents infections or hospitalizations, which is indeed a drawback, but the increase seen in the average child’s antibodies leaves very little doubt that in time we will have numbers to prove its effectiveness. We could wait till those numbers come in of course, but in the meantime we will be adding to the 17 lives the virus has claimed thus far.

Even the vaccine reticent Jason Kenney government has begun formulating the protocols that will be required to vaccinate this age group in order to be ready to roll as soon as the Canadian government grants the vaccine its approval. This is predicted to happen in October, shortly after the States. COVID vaccines in this age group are already being used elsewhere.

China has been using its Sinovac vaccine in kids as young as 3 since June and a number of other countries (Cuba, Chile, El Salvador and the United Arab Emirates) have also been using various vaccines for some time now. Israel has in fact been using the Pfizer vaccine in children as young as 5, who are especially vulnerable to the virus, since July.

As such, there is already loads of data supporting these vaccines as being safe. In fact the raw numbers indicate that kids seem to have the typical side effects (sore arm, fatigue…) less often than adults do. There is, as of yet, no sign of the heart inflammation from the vaccine occurring in this age demographic that has been seen, albeit rarely, in young adults. Bear in mind that this heart inflammation occurs more commonly from COVID than it does with the vaccine. It is also possible that another side effect occurs to a few number of kids who receive the vaccine.

That being said, researchers have yet to invent a totally safe drug, vaccine or activity for that matter. If you want to absolutely ensure your child’s physical safety and well-being, then don’t let them play sports, use any medications (not even what many would deem safe “over-the-counter” ones) or eat fast food like McDonalds etc.. Of course, when they are old enough, they should not consume alcohol or choose to not get their driver’s license. As you can see from these scenarios, living life comes with some risk.

While we are waiting for this next age group to get approved, Pfizer says it expects results by the end of the year for 2 other age groups that are currently being studied: 2- to 5-year olds and children aged six months to two years. For more information about this or any other health related questions, contact your pharmacist.