As Manitoba children prepare to return to in-person learning this month, some parents may be wondering when those aged five to 11 will be able to get a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — and whether they should get a second jab before the recommended period has passed since their first dose.
The first pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were administered in Manitoba on Nov. 24.
Public health officials initially suggested that with the exception of kids living on First Nations, most children should wait eight weeks between doses for maximum immunity, which means they’d be waiting until well into February at the least.
However, that was before the highly contagious Omicron variant ripped through the province, sending case counts soaring.
Now, Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force, says she’s seeking clarity from the provincial pediatric medical advisory committee, which will meet this week to reassess the eight-week recommendation.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization, however, has met in the context of Omicron and continues to recommend waiting eight weeks because it provides the safest and most effective immune response, Reimer said.
“For now, if you have a particular reason why you feel your child should be vaccinated sooner, please discuss this with your family doctor or your pediatrician,” she said at a Wednesday news conference.
As of Wednesday morning, 59,951 Manitoba children between five and 11 have received one dose of the vaccine, and 1,215 have had two, a provincial spokesperson said in an email.
The province had previously said there are about 125,000 children in this age bracket, so around 48 per cent of children have at least one dose.
Question of values, preferences
Some parents may want their children to get a second dose before going back to school, even if it’s before the eight-week mark, since research has found two vaccine doses are more effective at reducing severe COVID-19 outcomes.
Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a medical microbiologist and physician at Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital, says there are risks and benefits to both waiting and getting a second shot earlier.
Both he and Reimer point out that an eight-week wait has been found to provide longer-lasting immunity, and to further reduce the already low risk of side effects from the vaccine.
However, parents might be concerned about increased transmission of COVID-19 and the risks partly immunized children might face if they do become ill.
Getting a second dose after three weeks, which is the minimum Pfizer-BioNTech recommends, slightly increases the risks of side-effects and could impact the length of immunity, Lagacé-Wiens says.
“I’m a parent myself, so I struggle with this question, too.… Once we’ve reviewed the science, there’s benefits to either approach,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
“Values and preferences, I think are going to play a really important role in the decision parents are going to make.”
He anticipates that will come into play when the pediatric medical advisory committee makes its recommendation to the province next week.
“In the end, probably a values and preference approach is the most appropriate,” he said, and he suspects that’s the approach Reimer will recommend.
Manitoba adults urged to get Moderna booster
Meanwhile, Reimer urged all Manitoba adults over 30 who got a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for their second dose to get a Moderna shot for their third, due to limited Pfizer-BioNTech doses in storage or planned shipments.
Pfizer-BioNTech is the preferred vaccine for those under 30 because it carries even lower risk for that age group from vaccine-related myocarditis — a rare swelling of heart tissues.
“While myocarditis was already a rare and mild condition with Moderna, it was even more rare with Pfizer,” said Reimer.
“The good news for people over 30 is that they did not experience the same increased risk of myocarditis, regardless of which product they received,” and so they are encouraged to get a Moderna vaccine, she said.
“As someone who reads and analyzes the data all day and is over 30, I would be happy and confident to get either. So we’re asking Manitobans to save Pfizer for the younger folks.”
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