New year rollout expected in Alberta for Pfizer's newly approved pediatric bivalent booster

Alberta Health expects its first shipments of the Pfizer bivalent booster, for five to 11 year olds, to arrive within the next few weeks. (Leah Hennel/AHS - image credit)
Alberta Health expects its first shipments of the Pfizer bivalent booster, for five to 11 year olds, to arrive within the next few weeks. (Leah Hennel/AHS - image credit)

The Alberta government says it will likely start offering Pfizer's newly approved bivalent COVID-19 booster shots to kids, between five and 11 years old, early in the new year.

Health Canada announced its approval of the bivalent shots on Friday.

This is the first time a bivalent booster — targeting the original strain as well as the BA.4 and BA.5 variants — will be available to kids under 12.

The province said Friday it's consulting with the Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization as it works on its roll out plan.

"The federal government continues to supply all COVID-19 vaccines to the provinces," Alberta Health spokesperson Charity Wallace said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

"We expect to receive an initial supply of this vaccine in the next few weeks, which would enable us to begin offering it early in 2023."

Calgary-based pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Cora Constantinescu welcomed news of Health Canada's approval.

"I think a lot of parents have been waiting for this more tailored protection in the kids who would be getting boosted," she said.

Pfizer's pediatric bivalent shot is one third the dose offered to people 12 and up.

Submitted by Cora Constantinescu
Submitted by Cora Constantinescu

In its updated guidance, The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) strongly recommends a booster dose for high-risk kids such as those with underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems, at least six months after a primary series.

For healthy children it says the booster "may be offered."

"We know, especially if you haven't had Omicron, this is a great way to get Omicron protection without the disease," said Constantinescu.

In her interview, conducted with CBC News before AlbertaHealth shared information on its roll-out plans, she said the sooner it can be offered to Alberta children the better.

"I really hope this becomes quickly available for parents because ... we're just before the holiday season and we know in the past we've had a surge of infections around this time because of people getting together," she said, noting the Alberta Children's Hospital, where she works, is over 100-per-cent capacity due to a large surge in viral illnesses.

COVID and other shots at same time

NACI has also given the green light for children, between six months and five years old, to get their COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as other immunizations.

It had previously recommended they be spaced out by at least 14 days.

"COVID-19 vaccines may be given concurrently with (i.e. same day), or any time before or after, non-COVID-19 vaccines (including live and non-live vaccines)," the new guidance reads.

"I think that's fantastic ... because these kids five and under are a really vulnerable group when it comes to vaccine preventable diseases," said Constantinescu, adding many children have fallen behind on routine immunizations through the pandemic and uptake for influenza shots is stubbornly low.

"When parents have better access because they can get all of them at the same time that makes it easier and they're more likely to do that."