Canada approves Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids

Canada's health regulator approved Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 vaccine shot on Friday and announced it will allow Canadians returning from short trips abroad to use a quicker, less-expensive test for the coronavirus.

Health Canada authorized the shots for children ages 5 to 11. And as in the U.S., the doses will be just a third of the amount given to teens and adults.

But Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization has suggested that the country's provinces, which administer health care in the country, offer the two doses at least eight weeks apart.

In the U.S. 5- to 11-year-olds receive two low doses, three weeks apart, the same schedule as everyone else in the U.S. Canada had problems getting vaccines into the country early this year and delayed a second dose for adults until more supply came in, but Canadian officials say delaying a second dose provides better protection. 

"A longer interval between doses leads to stronger immunity," said Howard Njoo, the deputy public health officer of Canada.

The government agency said the vaccine is 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children and no serious side effects were identified.

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"After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, the Department has determined that the benefits of this vaccine for children between 5 and 11 years of age outweigh the risks," Health Canada said in a statement.

The agency also said that Canadians and permanent residents returning from the U.S. or other nations after trips of less than 72 hours no longer need to show a negative PCR test when returning. A rapid antigen test will suffice starting on Nov. 30.

The PCR test will still be required after longer trips and for fully vaccinated travelers from the U.S. or other countries, though Canada's Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said officials will soon provide an update for Americans.

While PCR tests are more sensitive, experts say the antigen tests are highly effective at detecting infectious levels of virus, are much cheaper and don't require waits that can sometimes extend for days.

In the U.S., the White House said Wednesday that about 10% of eligible children aged 5 to 11 have received a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine since the U.S. approval for their age group two weeks ago.

At least 2.6 million kids have received a shot, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday, with 1.7 million doses administered in the last week alone, roughly double the pace of the first week after approval.

Canada is expecting an accelerated delivery of 2.9 million child-sized doses, enough for a first shot for every child in the 5 to 11 age group. In a statement Friday, Pfizer said the vaccines would be shipped to Canada "imminently."

Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto and the medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai-University Health Network, said delaying a second dose for eight weeks probably means a lower myocarditis risk and theoretically a better immune boost. He said there are extremely rare side effects, including myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second dose.