Canada has authorised the use of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15.
It is the first country to do so for that age group.
The country’s health ministry made the decision based on data from phase three clinical trials on children that age.
“The department determined that this vaccine is safe and effective when used in this younger age group,” an adviser at the ministry said. Pfizer says its jab works well in the age group.
Canada has already authorised the use of the Pfizer vaccine in people over 16.
The province of Alberta, which has the highest rate of the virus in the country, said it would offer vaccines to those over 12 from Monday.
Canada has recorded more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases and roughly 20% of those have been in people under the age of 19.
The country’s vaccine rollout has been relatively slow, caused by delivery delays. About 34% of people in the country have received at least one dose of the vaccine while the figure in the US stands at 44%, according to Our World in Data.
The government has also faced criticism for drawing on a supply of Covid vaccines from the Covax inoculation-sharing scheme. Covax pools funds from wealthier countries to help buy vaccines for themselves and low-income nations.
Children’s risk of becoming very ill or dying with Covid-19 is tiny, and throughout the pandemic they have very rarely needed hospital treatment.
As part of the vaccine’s approval, Pfizer will have to continue providing information to Canada’s health ministry on the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine in those aged 12 to 15.
In March, Pfizer said initial results from trials of its vaccine in this age group showed 100% efficacy and a strong immune response.
The US Food and Drug administration and the European Medicines Agency are currently reviewing whether they can authorise the jab for younger people, with decisions expected soon.
What about other vaccine manufacturers?
Pfizer is one of a number of vaccine manufacturers testing jabs on children. The aim of vaccinating them – particularly older children – would be to keep schools open, reduce the spread of coronavirus in the community and protect vulnerable children with conditions which put them at increased risk.
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are currently testing their vaccines on those aged 12-18, with Moderna’s data expected soon.
Moderna and Pfizer are also testing their jabs on younger children between six months and 11 years old.
In the UK, AstraZeneca is testing its vaccine on 300 child volunteers. Researchers will assess whether the jab produces a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17.
On Wednesday, Mr Biden said he planned to back a World Trade Organisation waiver that would take away intellectual property rights from vaccine manufacturers. If approved, the waiver would allow production of vaccines to be ramped up and provide more affordable doses for less wealthier countries.
World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described Mr Biden’s backing as a “monumental moment in the fight against Covid”.
Canada is the first country to act
By Rachel Schraer, BBC health reporter
Children haven’t generally been included in the first phase of most countries’ vaccine programmes, because under-16s weren’t included in the original trials.
Drug companies are understandably wary to test products on children, especially when their risk from the disease the vaccine protects against is low.
But for the families of children with certain health conditions that make them vulnerable to Covid, being sure the shot is safe takes on a whole different importance.
Now we do have some trial data from Pfizer for 12- to 15-year-olds, suggesting the vaccine is both safe and effective. And Canada is the first country to act on this data.
Although most children are not at high risk from Covid, if they can begin to be safely vaccinated it is believed this could help countries to achieve herd immunity, reducing the chances of disease outbreaks in the future.
And with many countries struggling to vaccinate their most vulnerable populations – against a virus that doesn’t respect borders – the Canadian move could raise questions about whether the vaccines could be prioritised better elsewhere.
Global vaccine rollout
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