Canada became the world’s first nation to approve Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid vaccine for children on Wednesday, after its health regulator gave the green light for children aged 12 to 15 to receive the jab.
Dr Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, said it was safe and effective in the younger age group and will help children return to normal.
Pfizer’s vaccine was previously authorised only for people aged 16 and over.
The US is expected to follow suit, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scheduled to approve Pfizer’s jab for young people by the end of next week – in an attempt to have jabs set up before the beginning of the next school year.
It comes just a month after Pfizer found that its vaccine even provided protection for the younger age group.
In late March, the pharma giant released preliminary results from a vaccine study of 2,260 US volunteers aged 12 to 15 showing there were zero cases of Covid-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents, compared with 18 among those given dummy jabs.
Children who were studied had side effects similar to young adults, Pfizer said, mainly pain, fever, chills and fatigue, particularly after the second dose.
The study will continue to track participants for two years for more information about long-term protection and safety.
Dr Sharma told reporters on Wednesday that the evidence is there to back the move, and that Canada is “starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel”.
She added that while most children do not experience serious illness from Covid, a vaccine can work to protect friends and family who may be at higher risk of complications.
“It will also support the return to a more normal life for our children, who have had such a hard time over the past year,” Dr Sharma said.
Around 20 per cent of Canada’s 1,249,950 cases of coronavirus have been reported in people under the age of 19.
Alberta will become the first province to offer vaccines to everyone aged 12 and over from 10 May, Alberta’s premier Jason Kenney said on Wednesday, a day after he introduced tighter public health measures to combat a third wave of the pandemic.
“Today’s expansion of our authorisation represents a significant step forward in helping the Canadian government broaden its vaccination programme and begin to help protect adolescents before the start of the next school year,” Fabien Paquette, vaccines lead for Pfizer Canada, said in a statement.
Health Canada told the company it must continue providing information to it on the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine in this younger age group to ensure its benefits.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government has said it expects to receive at least 10 million vaccines this month, with more than 34 per cent of the population having already received at least one dose.
Justin Trudeau, the country’s prime minister, issued an appeal to the public via his Twitter account on Tuesday, reminding them to get inoculated when they are able to.
Alongside a GIF of the fictional Sar Wars character Han Solo, Mr Trudeau wrote: “Be like Han, take the first shot. #CovidVaccine #MayThe4thBeWithYou.”
Additional reporting by AP