Ask Your Pharmacist

June 03, 2021
Q:

I’m nervous about getting my kids vaccinated against COVID-19. Is the vaccine safe for kids?

A:

The decision to immunize your child against the COVID-19 virus is one that is on the minds of parents all over New Brunswick. Pharmacists are committed to ensuring you have access to quality information that allows you to make an informed decision about your child’s health.  

Here is what we know:

On May 5, 2021, Health Canada approved BNT162b mRNA Pfizer BioNTech vaccine (aka the Pfizer vaccine) against SARS-Co-V2 coronavirus for children 12 years of age (on the date of first dose) or older. This is the only vaccine currently approved for children in Canada.

The data we currently have is part of an ongoing study of the Pfizer vaccine in 2260 adolescents ages 12 to 15 years, to determine how well it works against COVID-19 infection and to assess its safety among them. Adolescents in the study will be followed for up to two years from the date of the second dose of vaccine. In the vaccine group, about half of the participants (i.e., 1131 adolescents) were injected with 0.3 mL intramuscular of Pfizer vaccine followed by a second dose 21 days later. In the no-vaccine group, about half of the participants (i.e., 1129 adolescents) were injected with 0.3 mL intramuscular of placebo (i.e., a solution looking similar to the Pfizer product with no active vaccine) followed by a second placebo dose 21 days later. 

The results of the study found zero cases of COVID-19 illness in adolescents who received two doses of Pfizer vaccine (i.e., zero cases in 1131 adolescents). In the no-vaccine group that received two doses of placebo, 16 out of 1129 adolescents aged 12 to 15 years became ill with COVID-19. In adolescents who received only one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, there were three cases of COVID-19 illness within 11 days of immunization. This shows us that it is important to receive two doses for full immunization and reminds us that it can take at least two weeks to develop any ability to fight infection.

Participants in the study were followed up with for at least one month (i.e., half were followed for two months) after their second dose of vaccine to monitor for side effects. There were no serious side effects in the study and no deaths. Mild to moderate local side effects occurred more commonly after the first dose of vaccine. The most common localized reaction was pain and redness at the injection site that resolved in days. Some mild to moderate full body symptoms occurred more frequently after the second dose of vaccine and included fever, chills, headache and tiredness. Talk to your pharmacist about acetaminophen dosage to alleviate these symptoms. Blood clots have not been associated with mRNA vaccines like the Pfizer vaccine in either adults or children.

Although our kids have been relatively spared by COVID-19 infection, they most certainly have been impacted by the disruption that has been caused in their lives. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, children aged 0 to 19 accounted for about 20 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalization, 1.8 per cent of ICU stays and 0.04% of deaths.

We know that children can transmit COVID-19 to the more vulnerable among us (i.e., elderly grandparents), and that children with chronic medical conditions (i.e., childhood asthma) or diseases that compromise their immune system, may be more susceptible to moderate to severe illness if infected. We also know that children can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.  This means that although they have little or no symptoms of disease, they are able to pass it on to others, sometimes without even knowing that they are infected. The Canadian Pediatric Society strongly advocates for the immunization of children 12 years of age and older. The best hope we have to get life back to a new normal is to vaccinate our kids and ourselves. 

I take the health of New Brunswick children very seriously. To date, 14,568,067 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine have been administered safely in Canadian adults. The science I’ve described above is proof the vaccine works and is safe. This is also supported by data in younger adults aged 19 - 25 years. Based on all of this evidence, I think it’s a good decision to vaccinate your child. 

I encourage you to check out this video from the University of Saskatchewan Medication Information Service for more information https://fb.watch/5NcjAFeVGl/ 

Dr Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.