Regardless of whether they are vaccinated, children aged five to 11 will not be subject to Alberta's restrictions exemption program, Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday.
"We want parents to take the time they need to assess their situation, review the data and make the best choice for their kids and their family," Kenney said at a news conference.
"We don't want people to feel rushed or pressured," he said. "The pandemic has been a trying time for every Albertan, and younger children and their parents are certainly no exception."
The vaccine passport did not apply to children under 12 when it was introduced in early September and that won't change, even though pediatric vaccinations for COVID-19 have arrived in Alberta and parents can begin booking appointments starting Wednesday morning.
Children have already sacrificed a lot to help keep others safe, Kenney said.
"Ultimately, we felt that it would be unfair to younger children to exclude them, to further stigmatize them especially given their low risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19."
Kenney said making 391,000 children eligible for vaccines means almost 94 per cent of the province's population can be vaccinated.
The first pediatric shots will be given on Friday, after the province distributes them to about 120 locations — mainly Alberta Health Services clinics and pharmacies — around the province.
Appointments must be booked through the Alberta Vaccine Booking System at alberta.ca/vaccine or by calling Health Link at 811. Walk-ins are not available.
The vaccines will not be made available in schools, said Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping.
"As you may be aware, we actually ran clinics for kids in junior high and high schools and that wasn't all that successful," Copping said. "Given the scale of the program, we're going to use what's tried and true, which is the AHS high through-put clinics, which has been successful to date."
The pending launch of pediatric vaccines is a big relief to Preet Bhandal, an Edmonton mother of three.
Her 13-year-old son is already vaccinated but her two young daughters — aged nine and 11 — are awaiting their shots.
"We can go back to normal life," said Bhandal, who has already pre-registered her daughters and checking for updates. "We've been wanting to go on vacation somewhere … it just alleviates all that stress."
The vaccines will also make her feel better about sending her children to school, she said.
Bhandal's son tested positive for COVID-19 in October 2020. No one else in the family got sick but his entire class had to quarantine.
"I know what it's like to be that parent whose child gets it and everybody else has to stay at home. Nobody wants to feel that way," she said.
"So now, at least protection-wise, everybody who does participate and get it can have some kind of peace of mind."
Canada's first doses of COVID-19 vaccines for children arrived in Hamilton, Ont., on Sunday, just days after Health Canada approved it. The federal government and the pharmaceutical giant have agreed on an accelerated delivery of more than 2.9 million doses.
The pediatric version of the vaccine uses a dosage a third of the size of those given to people 12 and older. There are also other changes to the vaccine, including one allowing it to stay at normal refrigeration temperatures for longer.
Health Canada authorized a two-dose regimen to be administered three weeks apart.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), however, is recommending that the spacing between doses be increased to at least eight weeks, as evidence has been growing that a longer interval generates a more robust immune response.
The pediatric formulation is a 10-microgram (mcg) dose, instead of the 30-mcg dose given to people aged 12 and older.
Vaccinating children is an important milestone in Canada's fight against COVID-19, said Dr. Iris Gorfinkel, a family physician and vaccine researcher in Toronto.
"We cannot stop the spread of COVID-19 vaccine unless we achieve 90 per cent of Canada's population being fully vaccinated," she said.
"About 12 per cent of Canada's population is under 12 so this is a tremendous milestone that will move us forward in achieving that herd immunity."
As of mid-November, 75 per cent of Canadians were fully vaccinated, according to federal government data.
While children are less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19, Gorfinkel said there have been some rare, yet worrying, instances of hospitalization and severe outcomes among minors. The possibility of long COVID is another risk for pediatric patients, she said.
Gorfinkel said the pediatric vaccine trials saw similar results to the adult trials, with vaccines proving to be nearly 91 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 among children aged five to 11.
"This has pinpoint accuracy," she said.
Hinshaw announced that 10 more Albertans have died from COVID-19, including a child under the age of two.
"While I will note that this child had complex pre-existing medical conditions that played a significant role, this does not diminish the tragic loss of one so young," Hinshaw said.
There have been a total of 3,227 deaths since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, cases from COVID-19 continue to decline in Alberta. With 253 new cases reported Tuesday, the province now has 5,001 active cases.
Here's how the active cases break down among the health regions in the province.
Calgary zone: 1,800
Edmonton zone: 1,087
North zone: 937
Central zone: 744
South zone: 424
Hospitals have 475 patients with COVID-19, including 94 in ICU.
About three-quarters of those in hospital are unvaccinated or partly vaccinated. About 70.7 per cent of Alberta's total population is considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
New QR code for travellers
The province also announced Alberta's vaccine record will be updated to meet the recommended Canadian standard for domestic and international travel.
The updated record, which includes middle names and is in both official languages, will be available Wednesday at alberta.ca/CovidRecords.
Only Albertans who intend to travel need to save or reprint the updated version of the QR code vaccine record.