Canada Wednesday began vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 in the French-speaking Quebec, while Ontario officially launched its campaign Thursday.
Canada is one of the countries with the highest vaccination rates in the world, with more than 85% of people over the age of 12 having received at least two doses.
Quebec Prime Minister François Legault said on Twitter that 115,300 appointments had been made in a few hours.
In a related development also Wednesday, Canada's health authorities have approved Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine for those over 18 years of age.
Earlier this month, the Health Canada agency authorized the use of Pfizer's vaccine on children from 5 to 11 years old under the same scheme already in use within the United States, which consists of doses containing one-third of the amount of drug used on adults and teenagers.
Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended both vaccine doses be applied at least eight weeks apart.
The government agency stated that the vaccine is 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children and no serious side effects were identified.
After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, the Department has determined that the benefits of this vaccine in children 5 to 11 years of age outweigh the risks, Health Canada said in a statement.
The agency also noted that Canadians and permanent residents returning from the United States or other nations after trips of less than 72 hours will no longer be required to submit a negative PCR test when they return. A rapid antigen test from November 30 will suffice.
Meanwhile, Europe's sanitary regulating agency EMA Thursday approved Pfizer's messenger RNA (ribonucleic acid) vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. Pfizer's drug has already been cleared for patients aged 12 to 27 throughout the European Union.
EMA said an expert panel ”recommended expanding the indication for the Comirnaty (Pfizer's commercial brand) vaccine to include children between the ages of 5 and 11.
Outside of Europe, the Pfizer drug has already been approved for children aged 5 to 11 in the United States, Israel and Canada in doses one third the strength of those used on adults and three weeks apart.
Comirnaty's side effects have been labelled as mild to moderate. They can last a few days and manifest as localized pain at the site of inoculation, fatigue, headache and/or muscle pain, or a cold. Therefore, EMA concluded that the benefits of Comirnaty in children aged 5 to 11 years outweigh the risks, particularly among those with comorbidities that may increase the risk of contracting a severe form of COVID-19.
The EMA has licensed four vaccines for the general population: those from Pfizer and Moderna, using messenger RNA, and those from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which use the adenovirus-based non-replicating viral vector” technique.