Young Albertans with underlying health conditions now eligible to receive Pfizer vaccine

CALGARY — Albertans born between 2006 and 2009 who have underlying health conditions are now able to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

Alberta Health Services approved the vaccine for use in people under 16 years old on Monday.

Health Canada has only authorized the vaccine for use in people 16 years of age, and older, however provinces have the ability to broaden the use of drugs and medications if there is supporting evidence. The decision is considered off-label authorization and Alberta Health Services says it carefully weighed the evidence and determined the benefits of giving young people the Pfizer vaccine outweigh potential risks.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization agrees that the young people with pre-existing health conditions would benefit from getting the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, as they are at a higher risk of experiencing a severe case of COVID-19.

Tyler Shandro, Alberta’s health minister, says the decision is in line with the approach of other provinces. The Ontario government is also using the shot to protect young people in its province.

In Alberta, those between 12 and 15 who have conditions including chronic hearth, lung, liver, or kidney disease, qualify to receive the vaccine. Albertans in the age group who have severe learning or developmental delays, or were diagnosed with cancer in the last year, are also eligible.

Parents or guardians of youth in this category are being asked to speak with their physician, and request a doctor’s note that they can use to book an appointment at a pharmacy or AHS clinic.

Pfizer BioNTech is also applying to expand the licenced age range, and is submitting safety and efficacy data to Health Canada.

PARENTS PUSHING FOR MORE DETAILED TIMELINE

Calgary parents say the move to expand eligibility for young people with underlying conditions is a big step forward, but they’re waiting to hear when more children can be immunized.

“There’s not even a light at the end of the tunnel at this point, because there’s not even a plan in place,” said Sarah McGuire, who is waiting to hear when her teenaged son will be able to get the shot. 

“There’s no hope right now for our teenagers.”

Alberta Health is reporting more than 5,300 active cases of COVID-19 in people who are 19 years old or under. 

McGuire says her son is anxious to get back to some sense of normalcy and the ongoing vaccine trials in youths are encouraging. For now, she plans to keep her son in online learning and keep him home to stay safe.

“I don’t feel comfortable letting him be a normal teenager, for lack of a better term, without a vaccination or vaccination plan in place,” she said.

Alberta Health says it is closely monitoring the advice and approvals from Health Canada when it comes to immunizing younger people, but there is no timeline for when it could be offered to more people who are not at the highest risk.

With files from CTV Calgary’s Jordan Kanygin

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