–Britt Santowski, SPN
B.C.’s youth between the ages of 16 and 18 working at front-line jobs, a recently identified provincial priority for immunization in B.C., cannot get immunized alongside their working cohorts, despite the fact that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends the use of Pfizer for those aged 16 and over.
In March, B.C. prioritized front-line workers. “More than 300,000 front-line workers, including first responders, grocery store employees, and teachers and child care workers, will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations over the coming weeks as the Province’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan moves forward ahead of schedule,” reads the March 18th release.
What it didn’t say is those under the age of 18 could not be vaccinated alongside their cohorts, in spite of the Pfizer vaccine being approved in Canada for use by those 16 and older.
In B.C., the general minimum age for vaccinations is 18. Age exceptions have been provided for people deemed clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) aged 16 years and older, and for the use of the Astoseneca vaccine being applied to those aged 55 and over on the mainland.
We wrote to the Ministry and asked: “Given that the Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16+ in Canada (and the WHO), and given that BC residents aged 16 and up are going to be given vulnerable consideration, why can’t youth aged 16-18 who are front line workers (gas stations, take out fast food, grocery stores, and pharmacies as examples) get immunized along with their cohorts? These essential service employees are prioritized in B.C., unless you’re between the ages of 16 and 18.”
Their first reply essentially restated our question.
“Our Immunization plan is focusing on adults 18 years of age and older at the moment. For people who are clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV), we provide the vaccine to those who are 16 years of age and older. As the situation evolves and we make progress in the next few months, our approach to immunization will continue to evolve as well.”
We gave another kick at the information can, clarifying our question. “Given that BC has identified frontline employees as a priority for COVID-19 vaccinations, and given that people aged 16+ are eligible if identified as vulnerable (CEV), and given that the Pfizer vaccine is approved in Canada for 16+, and given that many youth between 16 and 18 work at frontline jobs like grocery stores, pharmacies, and fast food restaurants, WHY ARE YOUTH AGED 16-18 NOT BEING IMMUNIZED ALONGSIDE THEIR COHORTS when vaccinations come to their worksite.”
To which the Ministry replied, It’s policy. In their words:
“B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan is based on expert advice and guidance from the NACI, B.C.’s Immunization Committee and the public health leadership committee. See more on B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan here.
“As is the case with every decision made by public health officials during the pandemic, decisions around the use and deployment vaccine in B.C. will be based on the best available science and evidence. This includes the science and guidance provided by NACI, as well as information from regional, provincial and national bodies. Since evidence is constantly evolving, it is expected that our approach will evolve over time.”
According to a NACI presentation (see slide 12), a “strong” recommendation is “that a complete vaccine series (i.e., 2-doses) of COVID-19 vaccine should be offered to individuals in the authorized age group without contraindications to the vaccine” [emphasis added by SPN]. The presentation went on to say that “the pivotal clinical trial was conducted in people 16 years of age and up, and this is the authorized age indication for the vaccine in Canada.” We also found that NACI recommended the use of Pfizer for those aged 16+ here.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, one of four approved vaccines in Canada, was authorized for use in Canada on December 9, 2020, for those 16 and older. The full list of vaccines available at this time are as follows:
- Pfizer, approved for ages 16+
- Modern, approved for ages 18+
- Astrazeneca, approved for ages 18+ (currently being administered to 55+ on the mainland)
- Janssen (from Johnson), approved for ages 18+, coming soon to B.C.
While Canadian statistics for this age group were not readily available, YouthTrends.org found that in the US “in 2018, 50 percent of all youth, ages 16–24, were employed, either full- or part-time.” While the numbers may not be mirrored here in Canada, we are assuming they are similar.