Balloons and superheroes: How Brampton doctors are making vaccine clinics kid-friendly

When children aged five to 11 head to The Embassy Grand vaccination centre in Brampton, they will be greeted by Disney movies, prizes and maybe even superheroes.  (Submitted by Priya Suppal - image credit)
When children aged five to 11 head to The Embassy Grand vaccination centre in Brampton, they will be greeted by Disney movies, prizes and maybe even superheroes. (Submitted by Priya Suppal - image credit)

If any children aged five to 11 tagged along to the Embassy Grand Vaccination Centre in Brampton when their older family members got vaccinated — rest assured the environment will be a lot more fun when it's their turn.

Appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations for that age group in Ontario opened Tuesday and about one million children across Ontario qualify. Peel Region anticipates it will begin vaccinating children by the end of the week.

"We are certainly preparing some exciting things for the kids," Dr. Priya Suppal said, adding staff have been making shopping trips to purchase holiday and hero-themed decor for the centre, located on The Gore Road just north of Queen Street East.

"We've got giveaways like iPads, Lego, books, gift cards and Christmas-themed loot bags," she said.

As clinics and staff prepare to administer COVID-19 vaccines to this age group for the first time, doctors say there is work happening behind the scenes this week to ensure the process is seamless and comfortable for the kids. This work includes creating a fun, kid-friendly environment at the clinics, and making sure staff are prepared to help ease any nervousness kids or parents might be facing.

Submitted by Priya Suppal
Submitted by Priya Suppal

Suppal, one of the medical directors at the Embassy Grand Vaccination Centre, says there can be a lot of anxiety when it comes to children and needles.

"It will be really important to have our nurse and physician vaccinators be able to sort of get to their level and explain to them what's happening," she said.

The hope is that a child-friendly environment that includes Disney movies, music, colouring books and stickers helps ease their anxiety.

Submitted by Inderjit Bolla
Submitted by Inderjit Bolla

"Who knows? We might have some super heroes that come and pay us a visit at the clinics as well," Suppal said.

Dr. Inderjit Bolla, one of the clinical leads at the centre, says when treating kids he puts himself in their shoes.

"I talk to them in a softer voice and very calmly," said Bolla, who has three young daughters at home.

"With extracurricular activities, I know the vaccines are going to be very important."

Bolla says it will be important to ensure parents feel comfortable too, which is why staff will be taking extra time with each appointment. They'll also be available to answer any questions the kids or parents might have and no one will be rushed.

"Once things get going, I think everyone's comfort level will improve."

Don't wait to book, Peel's top doctor warns

Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region's medical officer of health, says this next phase of vaccination brings him a sense of relief.

"First and foremost, this is about protecting the children," he said.

Loh says on rare occasions children can get seriously ill due to the novel coronavirus and immunizing them will "provide a little more certainty that they are not going to experience these symptoms."

It will also reduce the risk of outbreaks in schools and make family gatherings safer, he says, and he's urging parents to book appointments for their kids as soon as they can.

"I think there are a lot of parents who are taking a 'wait-and-see-what-happens' approach. The sooner everyone in your family is vaccinated, especially with children in this age group, the sooner this pandemic ends in a large degree for you."

While there will be superhero decor at some of the clinics in Peel, Loh adds it's the kids themselves who have been the resilient heroes throughout the pandemic.

"We've asked them to step up so many times during this pandemic, we're just asking them to step up another couple of times."

Suppal notes how special it feels as a family doctor to vaccinate entire families — grandparents, parents and now their children.

"As family doctors, it really feels like it's come full circle," she said.

"And if we can make it fun for the kids, I think it will be really uplifting for us as vaccinators and staff as well."