As the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across Canada, pediatricians say many parents and guardians of children under five want to know when and if a vaccine could soon come.
It’s still unknown when a COVID-19 vaccine could be offered to kids in this country, as drug manufacturers have yet to apply to Health Canada to provide a vaccine for this age group.
But pediatricians are looking at the United States, where the approval process is moving quickly, to get an idea of when a vaccine could be approved here.
Pfizer-BioNTech was asked by U.S. regulators last week to submit its vaccine application ahead of schedule.
The Food and Drug Administration announced Friday it will not make a decision on whether to authorize a vaccine for children younger than five until data on a third dose is also available, which Pfizer-BioNTech says would be available in early April.
Pediatricians say that if Pfizer soon gets the go-ahead in the U.S., the company would likely seek approval for its vaccine in Canada and other countries.
“I’m a parent myself, and I have two kids in the five-to-11 age group and they are vaccinated. But I do have a child under five, so I’m pretty excited about the potential of a vaccine in this age group,” Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatrician and infectious diseases physician at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, told Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC podcast The Dose.
Children under five are in the only age group not yet eligible in Canada for vaccination against COVID-19.
Here’s what we know about the vaccine for young children.
How effective is Pfizer’s vaccine?
Canadian pediatricians say information is limited right now because Pfizer has not yet made all of its trial data public.
As part of the approval process to allow the vaccine for children six months to under five years old, Pfizer’s application was supposed to be before a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee on Feb. 15 for discussion.
But the FDA announced Friday they were postponing the meeting to give the agency time to consider the additional data from Pfizer on third doses, “allowing for a transparent public discussion as part of our usual scientific and regulatory processes for COVID-19 vaccines,” the FDA said in a statement.
That meeting, which hasn’t been rescheduled, will give the public its first look at any new evidence of how effective Pfizer’s vaccine series was among preschoolers. The FDA could use the committee’s advice in deciding whether the doses are safe and effective enough for the youngest children.
The drug manufacturer said in December that preliminary study results showed that two low doses of its mRNA vaccine promoted a strong immune response in children between the ages of six months and two years old.
But two doses were less effective at preventing COVID-19 in two-to-five-year-olds. It’s not clear why, but one possibility is that the dose for this age group was a little too low.
For Pfizer’s adult vaccine, each shot in the two-dose series was 30 micrograms, while the dosage amount dropped to three mcg for the under-five age group.
In the trial, there was an interval of three weeks between the first and second shots for kids under five.
Constantinescu said she thinks there are two reasons why the vaccine was less effective for older children during the trial: The 21-day interval might not have been long enough for an immune system response, and the immunological age of kids who are two to five years old could have played a role.
“In a person’s life, their immune system is at different stages,” Constantinescu said, adding that other routine vaccines given to kids at this age often include three or four vaccines.
“It just takes a bit longer to train the immune system to respond appropriately to an antigen, and it’s conceivable that might also weigh in.”
The drugmaker added a third shot to the study, but results are not expected until late March.
Still, the FDA took the highly unusual step of urging Pfizer to apply now for a two-dose series, with a third shot potentially added later.
What is the hospitalization rate for children?
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on Pfizer to submit to the FDA because there’s a lot of concern about the number of children that are being hospitalized in the U.S. with COVID — and some of them with fairly serious disease,” said Dr. Noni MacDonald, a pediatric vaccinologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
From mid-December until Jan. 7, the hospitalization rate in the youngest kids in the U.S. had surged to more than four in 100,000 children, up from 2.5 per 100,000.
But in Canada, the hospitalization rate in this age group is not as big a problem as it is in the U.S., MacDonald said.
As of Feb. 4, the number of kids up to age 11 hospitalized with COVID-19 accounted for 1.8 per cent of the 122,074 total hospitalizations in Canada.
Canada does not provide specific data for the age group up to five years old.
Young children and teens are among the rising number of Canadians being hospitalized with COVID-19 as Omicron infections keep surging across the country.
Medical experts have stressed that there is a reduced likelihood of severe outcomes for the vast majority of children who test positive for COVID-19 and that the rise in hospitalizations among youth is likely tied to the variant’s ability to infect more people.
What do we know about the safety of Pfizer’s vaccine?
Constantinescu said based on what Pfizer-BioNTech has said, there were no safety concerns raised during the trial.
“That’s really reassuring that it’s not a safety problem. The issue seems that the antibody response is not where they were hoping it would be after two doses,” she said.
But the specific efficacy and safety data has yet to be made public.
What do we know about Moderna’s vaccine?
Moderna ran trials of its vaccine for this age group in several Canadian cities.
Similar to its vaccine series for adults, Moderna’s vaccine trial in the under-five age group saw two doses of vaccine given 28 days apart.
A spokesperson told CBC News that the company doesn’t know when it will apply to Health Canada for a vaccine for kids under five but that it is “actively working on it.”
Moderna said last month it expects to report data from its vaccine trials in March.
When will a vaccine be available in Canada?
Pediatricians hope that we could see a vaccine for this younger age group by the summer.
But that all depends on when and if Health Canada approves a vaccine for kids under five.
As of Wednesday, Health Canada has received no applications for a COVID-19 vaccine in children under five years old.
A spokesperson for Pfizer Canada said it’s in ongoing discussions with Health Canada about a vaccine for this age group but couldn’t provide a timeline as to when it plans to apply.
Dalhousie’s MacDonald said she expects the vaccine will be approved for use much quicker than those for older people because the data on its effectiveness in other age groups already exists.
“Now they’re going to look at all of that carefully, but it’s not a truckload of data like it would be if we were starting with a brand new vaccine first out the gate,” she said.
Why should parents, guardians consider the vaccine?
Pediatricians have already heard from parents wanting to know more about the vaccine for kids under five.
Dr. Ayisha Kurji, a Saskatoon-based pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Saskatchewan, said that earlier in the pandemic, messaging focused on protecting adults and that the risk of severe illness in children was lower.
But as time went on and more was learned about the coronavirus and its variants, the messaging to parents changed.
“It’s still pretty mild, but it is still something that can affect them,” she said.
Both Kurji and Constantinescu said it’s important to relay to parents and guardians that the vaccine will protect children from COVID-19.
“Having that individual protection is important — not just in the midst of a wave, but also long term for their health and well-being,” Constantinescu said. “I think parents are going to do the right thing and protect their kid with this vaccine.”
Written and produced by Stephanie Dubois, with files from Christine Birak and The Associated Press
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Ukraine war: McDonald's to sell its Russian business – CTV News
More than three decades after it became the first American fast food restaurant to open in the Soviet Union, McDonald’s said Monday that it has started the process of selling its business in Russia, another symbol of the country’s increasing isolation over its war in Ukraine.
The company, which has 850 restaurants in Russia that employ 62,000 people, pointed to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, saying holding on to its business in Russia “is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values.”
The Chicago-based fast food giant said in early March that it was temporarily closing its stores in Russia but would continue to pay its employees. Without naming a prospective Russian buyer, McDonald’s said Monday that it would seek one to hire its workers and pay them until the sale closes.
CEO Chris Kempczinski said the “dedication and loyalty to McDonald’s” of employees and hundreds of Russian suppliers made it a difficult decision to leave.
“However, we have a commitment to our global community and must remain steadfast in our values,” Kempczinski said in a statement, “and our commitment to our values means that we can no longer keep the arches shining there.”
As it tries to sell its restaurants, McDonald’s said it plans to start removing golden arches and other symbols and signs with the company’s name. It said it will keep its trademarks in Russia.
Western companies have wrestled with extricating themselves from Russia, enduring the hit to their bottom lines from pausing or closing operations in the face of sanctions. Others have stayed in Russia at least partially, with some facing blowback.
French carmaker Renault said Monday that it would sell its majority stake in Russian car company Avtovaz and a factory in Moscow to the state — the first major nationalization of a foreign business since the war began.
For McDonald’s, its first restaurant in Russia opened in the middle of Moscow more than three decades ago, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was a powerful symbol of the easing of Cold War tensions between the United States and Soviet Union, which would collapse in 1991.
Now, the company’s exit is proving symbolic of a new era, analysts say.
“Its departure represents a new isolationism in Russia, which must now look inward for investment and consumer brand development,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData, a corporate analytics company.
He said McDonald’s owns most of its restaurants in Russia, but because it won’t license its brand, the sale price likely won’t be close to the value of the business before the invasion. Russia and Ukraine combined accounted for about 9% of McDonald’s revenue and 3% of operating income before the war, Saunders said.
McDonald’s said it expects to record a charge against earnings of between US$1.2 billion and $1.4 billion over leaving Russia.
Its restaurants in Ukraine are closed, but the company said it is continuing to pay full salaries for its employees there.
McDonald’s has more than 39,000 locations across more than 100 countries. Most are owned by franchisees — only about 5% are owned and operated by the company.
McDonald’s said exiting Russia will not change its forecast of adding a net 1,300 restaurants this year, which will contribute about 1.5% to companywide sales growth.
Last month, McDonald’s reported that it earned $1.1 billion in the first quarter, down from more than $1.5 billion a year earlier. Revenue was nearly $5.7 billion.
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Canadian home prices fall 6% in April, down for 2nd month in a row – CBC News
Canadian home prices fell six per cent to $746,000 in April, as higher interest rates poured cold water on a red-hot real estate market.
Home sales fell 12 per cent nationally in April, with the biggest drops seen in big cities like Toronto, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Monday.
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Prices peaked at a record high of more than $816,000 in February this year and average home prices have now declined for two months in a row. In March, the average price stood at $796,000, before falling another six per cent in April, which is typically a strong month for the housing market.
“Following a record-breaking couple of years, housing markets in many parts of Canada have cooled off pretty sharply over the last two months, in line with a jump in interest rates and buyer fatigue,” CREA chair Jill Oudil said in a statement.
CREA says the average selling price can be misleading because it is easily skewed by expensive and numerous sales in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver. It highlights a different number called the House Price Index as a better gauge of the market because it adjusts for the volume and type of homes sold.
The HPI shrank by 0.6 per cent in April, the first monthly decline in two years.
While prices are down from their recent peak, they remain up by about seven per cent from where they were a year ago.
Still, the numbers paint a picture of a housing market cooling from its feverish activity just a few months ago.
“The exorbitant run-up for more expensive units (like detached homes) during the pandemic may give way to a steeper decline,” TD Bank economist Rishi Sondhi said in a note to clients.
“Moving forward, we expect prices to continue falling, reflecting the cooler demand backdrop.”
A problem for sellers — and some buyers, too
Lower prices may be welcome news for buyers trying to get into the market, but they’re anxiety-inducing for those trying to sell — especially if they’ve already bought somewhere else themselves.
For some recent buyers, a market that’s cooled after they’ve bought can cause major headaches. Some who bought at the highs assuming their lenders would loan them a certain amount are discovering in the appraisals process that the bank is valuing that property by less than anticipated, which forces the buyers to have to come up with more than they were expecting up front.
Leah Zlatkin, a mortgage broker with Lowestrates.ca, gives the example of a buyer who offered $1.2 million on a home and assumed their lender would finance 80 per cent of the cost. On appraisal, however, the lender valued the property at $1.1 million, which forces the buyer to come up with tens of thousands of dollars more than they anticipated.
“When home purchasers have really stretched their budget and bid over asking price, we are starting to see those appraisals come in a little bit lower in some cases,” Zlatkin told CBC News.
Keith Lancastle, CEO of the Appraisal Institute of Canada, says it’s not uncommon in frothy markets for buyers to get carried away and offer far more than an appraiser values the property at — and the same is true of down markets.
“The selling price doesn’t drive the mortgage, the appraised value drives the mortgage, and that’s the value that the lenders base their decision on,” he said.
Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.
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