Vaccinating kids may be key to quashing COVID-19, but there are still many unknowns

“If you have a large number of adults who are immune … will the virus find other pathways?” – Manish Sadarangani, infectious disease specialist at B.C. Children’s Hospital

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Age will likely determine when B.C. kids can be vaccinated, with teens at the front of the line after COVID-19 vaccines are approved for use in younger people, health experts say.

On Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed questions about the province’s plans to vaccinate children, saying “immunization of children is absolutely important.”

“By next fall we are likely to have a vaccine available for children, particularly for teenagers who are most at risk,” said the B.C. provincial health officer.

But Henry emphasized the province should be able to manage the third wave of the virus — reducing both transmission and pressure on hospitals — if we “keep going with what we’re doing.” The province’s current vaccination plan, which aims to provide every eligible adult with their first dose of vaccine by July 1, also provides a path to relaxing some restrictions by the summer.

Henry pointed to communities, such as Prince Rupert, where the vaccination of a large number of adults has led to a dramatic decrease in transmission.

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“When a vaccine is available to you, take it, whichever vaccine it is,” she urged.

The focus on children came after a report released by two professors at Simon Fraser University showed that not enough people will obtain immunity under B.C.’s current vaccination program to allow life to return to normal by the fall.

Mathematicians Paul Tupper and Caroline Colijn predicted B.C. would be able to protect about 51 per cent of the population through its current vaccination program. That is about nine percentage points short of the 60 per cent many believe is needed to achieve herd immunity.

Tupper and Colijn said vaccinating kids could be the key to increasing immunity.

On Thursday, Henry expressed faith in the province’s current plan, noting that the report showed the need for high rates of vaccination across all age groups. She said that in some age groups, B.C. has had higher than 80 per cent acceptance of the vaccine.

But the provincial health officer said that while vaccinating adults should allow B.C. to manage the virus, “it doesn’t mean COVID is gone completely.” Vaccinating kids will eventually help the province get to “another phase.”

So far, only the Pfizer vaccine has been licensed for use down to age 16. There are continuing studies looking at kids aged 12-to-16 with results expected in the next few months, as well as “studies going down to six-months-of-age with some of the vaccine candidates,” she said.

While most children don’t appear to be severely affected by the virus or major drivers of transmission, the risk to kids isn’t zero, said Manish Sadarangani, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at B.C. Children’s Hospital.

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