With school approaching, should children wait for an Omicron-specific vaccine?

As Canadian children prepare for their fourth year of school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be like no other, with the prospect of bivalent vaccines on the horizon. These updated COVID-19 vaccines target both the original strain of the coronavirus, as well as the Omicron BA.1 subvariant.

Booster doses specific to Omicron manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are currently under review by Health Canada. This may cause some parents to wonder whether to have their children vaccinated before school resumes or wait until a bivalent vaccine becomes available.

For children who have not yet received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine but are eligible, Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine encourages parents to get them vaccinated as soon as possible.

“We need to take the vaccine that is available right now, rather than waiting for a future vaccine, even if that future is only a few months away,” the University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist told CTVNews. .ca in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “Vaccines available now still protect you against hospitalizations and long COVIDs, and that alone is reason enough to get them.”

A COVID-19 vaccine that also targets the Omicron variant may offer additional protection over current doses given, experts say. However, it is not yet known when this formula will be available to Canadians, said Dr. Joanne Langley, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Also, as with the original COVID-19 vaccine, the first authorization will likely be for adult-sized doses, Langley noted.

This can leave unvaccinated children at risk of being exposed to the virus as it continues to circulate across the country, especially in settings such as schools, Langley said. The Omicron BA.5 subvariant is currently the dominant subvariant in Canada.

“If there’s an infectious disease that’s present in a crowded environment, then there’s an increased risk of transmission,” Langley told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Wednesday. “The children are in this setting for six to seven hours a day – they play together, they kiss…they will laugh and sing. These are things that increase risk.

After being vaccinated, it takes about two weeks for the body to produce antibodies that protect against COVID-19, Muhajarine said. With classes resuming in less than two weeks across the country, parents may also be wondering if it’s too late to get their children vaccinated in time for school.

According to Dr. Ran Goldman, a pediatrician and professor at the University of British Columbia, eligible people should get vaccinated now rather than later.

“Although we say vaccines can take up to two weeks to [offer] full protection, I would do it now, I wouldn’t wait,” Goldman told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s such an important part of us as parents to make sure our children are protected.”

Bivalent vaccines are also being looked at as booster shots rather than an entirely new vaccine, Muhajarine said, stressing the importance of getting vaccinated with the current formula. As of August 25, 42.4% of children aged 5 to 11 had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is considerably lower than vaccination rates among older age groups.

“The sooner we get the next dose we are eligible for, the more prepared we will be. [for] this bivalent vaccine,” Muhajarine said. “Enough time has passed for this bivalent vaccine to be more effective in our system.”

THE RISK OF SERIOUS RESULTS IN CHILDREN IS NOT ZERO: EXPERT

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), a key risk factor in developing serious consequences from COVID-19 infection is old age. According to the agency, data on hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 also suggest that the virus causes milder disease in children than in adults.

However, the risk of serious consequences following a COVID-19 infection is not zero, Langley said. It is also possible for children to suffer from other health problems after contracting the virus. A study has linked COVID-19 infection to multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). In a separate study of eight countries, nearly 6% of children said they had suffered from long COVID.

“Not everyone receives [COVID-19] will have a more serious outcome, but there is a risk,” Langley said. “We can’t say it won’t happen to you.”

That’s why parents are advised to make sure their children are up to date on their recommended vaccine doses, Muhajarine said. Current vaccines not only provide protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19, but also against infection, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, studies have found.

MASKING AND OTHER MEASURES IN SCHOOLS

As children prepare for another school year amid the pandemic, families will notice that COVID-19 measures such as mask-wearing are no longer required in schools, according to provincial and territorial public health guidelines. Some universities, however, have said they will continue to require students and employees to wear masks in different campus settings, and Muhajarine still recommends wearing masks at school.

“Moving away from the public health measures that we had in place in year one, and also to a large extent in year two [of the pandemic], is not the right way to go…because COVID-19 is still present,” he said. “If we’re not careful, we can see spikes [of infection] continue this winter season.

However, Goldman said the current protocols are appropriate for Canadians’ current situation in the progression of the pandemic.

“We are at a different stage of the pandemic right now – we know more about the virus and how to protect ourselves [ourselves and] people are vaccinated,” he said. “Using masks if you are in very close interaction with others… is important, but we also have to think about the children who spend all day keeping their masks on, [which is] quite difficult.

“I will not recommend mandatory masks for everyone.”

The three experts suggest avoiding close contact with sick people and encourage children with COVID-19-like symptoms to stay home until they recover, even if they test negative for the virus. virus.

“You don’t want to spread the COVID-19 virus to anyone, especially people you know and go to school with,” Muhajarine said. “Be kind to yourself and those around you.”

Muhajarine also advises parents to ask their children’s schools if ventilation systems have been updated. Good ventilation in indoor spaces helps exchange air in a room, which can limit the spread of COVID-19, he said.

For some, virtual learning may also be an option to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. This is especially the case for children with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, or those who are immunocompromised, Langley said.

However, it’s important to note that children also benefit from the social interaction that takes place when they physically attend class, Goldman said. Going to school in person has a positive effect on children’s physical and mental well-being, he said. Therefore, Langley suggests taking this into consideration when deciding whether or not to pursue online learning.

“You have to weigh all of these pros and cons together and make the best decision for your little one,” Langley said.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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