Alberta children under five years old will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine starting Aug. 2, the province confirmed Friday.
On Aug. 2, appointments for first doses can be booked, with vaccine administration also beginning on Aug. 2.
This vaccine will be administered at Alberta Health Services clinics around the province. First-dose appointments must be booked at bookvaccine.alberta.ca or by calling Health Link at 811.
Children under the age of five who live on a First Nations reserve can access doses through nursing stations or public health clinics on-reserve.
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“While most children are not at high risk of severe outcomes, children under five have higher risks than those age five to 11,” said Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“I encourage parents and guardians to speak to a trusted health-care provider for questions about their child’s health, including questions about COVID-19 and immunization.”
According to Alberta Health Services data, only 50.2 per cent of kids five to 11 years old have their first dose and 36.3 per cent have their second.
It is recommended that children aged six months to 11 years receive a primary series of two doses with an interval of at least eight weeks between the first and second dose, or a primary series of three doses if they are moderately to severely immunocompromised with an interval of four to eight weeks between each dose.
“Parents are in the best position to decide whether the vaccination is right for their children, and we are providing them with the information they need to help them make that choice,” said Health Minister Jason Copping in a news release Friday.
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“I think parents of children that age should be very happy that finally their children get to join the party and can be immunized against COVID,” said Dr. Joan Robinson, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Robinson said, that while a study found the vaccine only prevents about 35 per cent of COVID-19 cases, it prevents severe disease and hospitalization.
“Bad outcomes are real in this age group,” she said.
“If you look at children aged six months to four years of age in Alberta, for the first six months of this year, there were over 300 admissions with a child who was positive for COVID. For roughly a third of those, COVID was the entire reason for the admission. A third of them, COVID had nothing to do with the admission, for example, a child who broke their leg and happened to have COVID at the same time.
“It certainly does appear that we could probably have prevented at least 100 admissions in Alberta, and maybe a larger number, if the vaccine is as effective as it is in older people at preventing severe infection.”
However, Alberta won’t likely see that reduction in severe illness until children are fully vaccinated, Robinson said.
“What we learned in adults is even though one dose provides some protection, a second dose provides way more protection.
“Immunity wanes and having a third, and now sometimes even a fourth dose, is important. So I think until children have had their first two doses, we can’t expect a huge effect on severe disease.”
Alberta expects to be vaccinating children under 5 against COVID-19 by end of July
On Thursday, Alberta Health said details of its rollout plan would be released “in the next few days.”
Two weeks ago, on July 14, Health Canada approved Moderna’s Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six months to five years. It’s the first approved vaccine against the coronavirus for the nearly two million kids in that age range in the country.
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At the time, Alberta Health said it anticipated it would be vaccinating the kids in the eligible age range by the end of July.
Other provinces in Canada have already started administering the shot, or are booking appointments for kids under five.
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam wrote on Twitter on Friday that vaccines are the way to live with COVID-19 with fewer disruptions and lower spread.
Tam pointed out that there are high COVID-19 hospitalization rates in children under five.
“We have high hopes (the vaccine) will decrease the number of children admitted to hospital over the next year,” Robinson said. “One problem with COVID-19 that happens… is something called multi-inflammatory syndrome.
“Two to six weeks after (infection) in older children, especially — even some in this age group — get COVID, they come in with fever and all kinds of other problems, including inflammation of the heart. And there’s good evidence that vaccines prevent this complication.
“So I think that’s one reason to get your child immunized, even if you otherwise perceive COVID as being a mild disease,” Robinson said. “And I didn’t mention the frightening point: over 300 children admitted in Alberta in the first six months, 40 of those children went to ICU. So it isn’t like this is always a minor condition.”
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The Opposition NDP and other advocates have criticized the UCP government for acting too slowly and not making the vaccine available to young children sooner.
Some Alberta parents have been anxiously waiting for the vaccine to be available to their young ones.
“Every other age cohort has had pretty quick rollout,” Gregg Beever said Thursday.
“We’ve know this was coming for two months now since it was approved by the FDA in the United States. We knew it was going to happen. So what is the hang up?”
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“We are desperate to vaccinate our child and make sure she is safe,” Beever said. “Just get it done.
“This is an absolute joke.”
READ MORE: Hospitalizations up as BA.5 becomes dominant variant in Alberta
The Alberta NDP also pushed the province to prioritize this rollout.
“Alberta families deserve to have the same access to COVID-19 vaccines as every other province,” education critic Sarah Hoffman said in a statement Thursday.
“However, as of today, Alberta is the only province in Canada where parents cannot book appointments for children under five years old. This is simply unacceptable.”
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Children’s services critic Rakhi Pancholi called on the health minister to “show up and do his job.”
“Alberta’s NDP is calling on the UCP government to keep its promise and open booking for these vaccines immediately,” Pancholi said in a statement Thursday.
“By providing vaccines for children under five years old, parents can better protect their own kids and others, especially in child-care settings. The UCP needs to stop dragging their heels and start stepping up. There is no excuse for being so far behind the rest of Canada.”
Data released Wednesday by the province shows the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has increased by 90 over the previous week.
Genetic sequencing from PCR tests and wastewater monitoring shows the BA.5 variant has become dominant in Alberta.
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