On July 20, 2022 / News
Manitoba is expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include children under the age of five, but due to a temporary shortage of doses, the province is prioritizing kids with certain medical conditions and those who are First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
"I know this day is a day that many parents have been waiting for for quite some time. Many will feel that sense of relief that their child is now eligible," Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said during a Wednesday afternoon news conference.
"This vaccine has a very safe profile and is effective."
Health Canada approved the two-dose Moderna vaccine for kids age six months to four years old last week. The dosage is roughly one-quarter the size of the dose given to adults.
There are approximately 76,700 children in Manitoba in the under-five age group, but the province is only receiving 14,900 doses in the first delivery, Roussin said.
As a result, when booking for the doses opens on Monday, July 25 at 8 a.m., it will be initially be limited to kids who are First Nations, Inuit, or Métis, or have any of these health conditions:
Chronic lung disease.
Congenital or chronic heart or circulatory diseases.
Moderately to severely compromised immunity due to a medical condition or treatment.
Neurologic disorders (including developmental delay).
Diabetes, chronic kidney disease or any chronic disease related to premature birth.
Eligibility will expand to include more children in the under-five age group when more vaccines are delivered to the province, Roussin said. A second vaccine shipment is expected in late July or early August.
The first doses are expected to arrive at the end of this week and will then be shipped to various sites, including regional vaccine sites, public health offices and medical clinics. The province is also working with First Nations leadership to co-ordinate distribution to their communities.
They won't be available at pharmacies because pharmacists aren't legally able to immunize children in this age bracket, at least for now.
Roussin indicated that public health may look to pharmacists to help out at some point, and Pharmacists Manitoba says it's ready and willing.
"Pharmacists across the province are certainly prepared and ready to help keep our community safe in any way possible. And so if the province calls upon us to help immunize younger children, we're prepared to step up to the plate," said Tim Smith, the pharmacy practice adviser for the organization.
Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, in Toronto. Pharmacists Manitoba says its members are ready and willing to help out vaccinating young children, if regulations are expanded to allow it. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Other jurisdictions like Ontario allow pharmacists to immunize children as young as two, and Smith says it's not very different than vaccinating other age groups.
"It's possible that there will be some additional training that might be recommended or there might be additional training that might be required. We'll just have to wait for what discussions between government and the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba and ourselves look like," Smith said.
Bookings will be available using the online vaccine finder or through the vaccine call centre at 1-844-626-8222, the province says.
For those who need to book appointments for more than one child, the province recommends calling instead of booking online in order to get appointments as close together as possible.
Although children in the under-five age group don't see severe outcomes from COVID-19 as often as older people, Roussin said it's still important for them to be protected.
"We've seen severe [COVID-19] outcomes … in children that didn't even have significant health issues, so it certainly does occur," he said.
"We're certainly recommending [vaccination] … especially in this cohort right now, which represents the higher-risk children."
Roussin encouraged parents and caregivers of children who aren't considered higher-risk to get them vaccinated when they become eligible.
The province recommends children in this age group wait eight weeks between their first and second doses of the vaccine.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends children who have had other vaccines wait two weeks before getting their COVID-19 vaccine, in order to monitor for any side-effects. Manitoba's approach is consistent with NACI's, but children who have received a different vaccine within 14 days won't be turned away.
To date, more than three million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to people living in Manitoba, the province says.
Approximately 43 per cent of children ages five to 11 are considered fully immunized with at least two doses, while nearly 80 per cent of young people aged 12 to 17 have at least two doses of vaccine.