A child hugs his mother as he waits for his dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children on November 24, 2021 in Montreal, Quebec ( AFP / Andrej Ivanov)

Canada children's hospital did not expand to treat Covid-19 vaccine side effects

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Social media posts claim that the cardiac unit of a children's hospital in Toronto was "expanded" in anticipation of a surge of side effects following the Covid-19 vaccination campaign for children aged five to 11. This is false; SickKids said the hospital has not expanded services within its department of cardiology, and available data shows that the risk of heart inflammation following vaccination in this age range is very low.

"They expanded the cardiac unit at Sick kids hospital in anticipation of side effects when rolling out the (vaccine) for 5-11 year olds," claims a February 2, 2022 tweet that has been liked and retweeted thousands of times.

Screenshot of a tween taken February 8, 2022

Screenshots of the same tweet also circulated on Facebook.

On November 19, Health Canada authorized the use of the pediatric dose of the messenger RNA (mRNA) Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11. The shots have been the target of misinformation around the world. As of late January, 1.5 million or almost 55 percent of children in this age range had received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine in Canada.

But the claim about the hospital expansion is false, according to SickKids, or The Hospital for Sick Children, which is affiliated with the University of Toronto.

In October 2019, prior to the pandemic, SickKids broke ground on a new Patient Support Centre, and construction has continued on a long-term redevelopment of the hospital campus.

But Sarah Warr, a spokeswoman for SickKids, told AFP in an email on February 7, 2022: "SickKids has not expanded services within the Division of Cardiology for concerns related to myocarditis or pericarditis following Covid-19 immunization."

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle and pericarditis is an inflammation of the outer lining of the organ.

Both have been observed following Covid-19 vaccination, but they are "very rare and are most commonly experienced by older adolescents and young adults," Warr said, adding: "They are extremely rare in young children."

She said: "At SickKids, we provide care to pediatric patients experiencing myocarditis or pericarditis after a Covid-19 infection, as well as in very rare cases following Covid-19 immunization. We have been able to accommodate these patients within our existing cardiology clinic infrastructure."

Warr also confirmed that "patient volumes in our Division of Cardiology have remained consistent from before the Covid-19 pandemic to now."

A similar experience was had by Dr Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Centre-affiliated Montreal Children's Hospital.

He said that there had been no increase of young children admitted for myocarditis in his Montreal hospital following the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

While Canadian data has not been released yet, Papenburg said on February 8 said that the initial data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was "very reassuring." It showed that only 11 cases of myocarditis were recorded following the administration of more than 8 million pediatric doses of Covid-19 mRNA vaccines.

"In older adolescents and young adults, particularly males, there was an association between the mRNA vaccine and post-vaccine myocarditis. What we're seeing is that it's much, much less common in young children aged five to 11 years," he said.

He added that the rate of transitory side effects such as fever, pain at the injection site and fatigue were in line with what had been observed in adolescents and adults.

In another study recently published on the Nature website, researchers found that vaccination in adults "was associated with a small increase in the risk of myocarditis" but that infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus was associated with a "substantial increase" in the risk of severe outcomes.

The researchers wrote that SARS-CoV-2 infection "was associated with a substantial increase in the risk of hospitalization or death from myocarditis, pericarditis and cardiac arrhythmia."

Contacted by AFP, Meaghan Richens, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), said on February 8 that a monitoring program funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada is in place to detect potential side effects following vaccination across Canada. CPS says it involves 12 Canadian centers, which represent about 90 percent of all tertiary care pediatric beds in Canada.

She also said that a nationwide study to monitor Covid-19 illness and safety of vaccines in children and youth was announced in June 2021.

AFP Fact Check previously examined a false claim that a pediatric stroke awareness campaign was related to Covid-19 vaccines.

February 8, 2022 This article was refiled to remove repetition in paragraph 21.