Saskatchewan children from five to 11 years old are now eligible to receive their third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as long at least four months has passed since their previous shot — but with the school year about to start, some parents say the shots should have been made available sooner.
"Too little, too late" said Carolyn Brost Strom.
Her eight-year-old daughter was excited to start Grade 3 at her Prince Albert school, but now has a fever, sore throat and fatigue after testing positive for COVID-19.
"It's disappointing to start the school year like this. We got the backpacks and everything done a few weeks ago, but it's all sitting there," Strom said. "She put her head under the pillow and started crying."
The provincial government announced on Tuesday that booster appointments for five- to 11-year-olds would be available as of Wednesday.
Health Canada approved Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose for kids in that age range on Aug. 19. Strom says if the province had made the booster doses available then, her daughter might have been in a better situation.
Strom, who has worked as a COVID-19 case investigator, said she's hopeful her daughter will be able to attend school soon, but she's frustrated with the province's now-monthly updates on COVID-19 transmission.
While her family has tried to limit interactions, she said more frequent information would be helpful in decision-making.
"If you get information monthly, how do you make a judgment call? My daughter is unwell, lying in her room.… There's frustration that it hit us after we avoided it for two years."
Saskatoon resident Leah Howie said though she is excited for her kids, age seven and nine, to start the school year on Thursday, she had hoped they'd have the protection of a booster shot.
"I'm very frustrated. It has been eight months since their second dose," said Howie, who is concerned that with increasing transmission and no mandated masking, her daughters may contract COVID-19 again.
"My girls actually had a chance to go back to school boosted but that chance has now gone, and that's disappointing."
She said the lack of communication from the province since the boosters were approved was "needlessly frustrating."
"Why weren't they immediately eligible to receive their vaccines? Had they got it then, my kids would have had a full immune response by now. Moreover, it actually would have been a lot easier for us to schedule an appointment before school started."
Provincial Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab told reporters Tuesday that the delay was due to operational readiness.
"The vaccines were here but we wanted to have all the documentation and processes to be ready. I know some parents were keen to have the booster in before the start of the school," Shahab said.
"I think getting it anytime in September is fine."
Getting a booster shot should be part of back-to-school plans, he said.
"Vaccination rates among adults are better than school-age children. Forty-three per cent of children have received two doses, just over half [have received] the first."
Parents react to booster availability
Some parents and caregivers CBC talked with in Saskatoon on Tuesday said they wished the boosters had been made available earlier.
That includes Maja Montgomery, who said summer was busy, but with booster doses only now becoming available, she has to push her plans to get the shot for her six-year-old son until later.
"I wish the announcement came earlier. It always just seems to be in the nick of the time," she said. "At this point, many people will rush to get the doses."
Montgomery said vaccination makes her son nervous, so she wants him to have a chance to get used to being at school before she gets him boosted.
Meanwhile, Monica Powers said her family welcomes the news boosters are now available — and her five-year-old granddaughter, Nova, is clearly excited to begin kindergarten Thursday.
"I'll carry my pink bag and will make new friends," Nova said.
North Battleford resident Andrea Graw said her 10-year-old daughter is involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, so needs a booster dose.
"But we won't be getting it right away. We won't rush it before school," said Graw.
Dil Basnet, a nanny in Saskatoon, said her 11-year-old daughter is fully vaccinated, but she would have liked to get her boosted before starting Grade 7.
"It's good to be boosted. I want her to be safe," said Basnet.
Betty Cornelius said she'll consult a doctor before getting a booster dose for her adopted six-year-old son.
"I'm already struggling with school as he has special needs. It's hard as it'll take us two weeks to get to the doctor, so there will be more delay in getting him boosted," she said.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization released recommendations earlier this month saying that five- to 11-year-olds with any underlying medical condition that places them at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should get a booster dose.
For Jenn Summers, who lives in the northern Saskatchewan town of Spiritwood, it will be another year of homeschooling for her eight-year-old twins.
"We have kept the bubble small. My girls have developmental delays and are immunocompromised, but [with the] lack of vaccine uptick and no masking around us, it's the safest bet," she said.
Summers said though she feels "kept in the dark" without more frequent COVID-19-related information, she is grateful for the booster shots.
"If the kids had got boosters early on, it would've been even better."