Excitement, relief as Alberta children get their first COVID-19 vaccines

·3 min read
A girl prepares for her first COVID-19 shot. Today, the first vaccine appointments are rolling out for eligible children aged 5-11. (Alberta Health Services - image credit)
A girl prepares for her first COVID-19 shot. Today, the first vaccine appointments are rolling out for eligible children aged 5-11. (Alberta Health Services - image credit)

There were smiles, some tears and hundreds of Band-Aids plastered on little arms as Alberta's COVID-19 vaccination clinics opened their doors to children Friday.

Appointments for Pfizer-BioNTech's pediatric vaccine began Friday morning. Thousands of children were booked to get shots on the first day of the rollout.

As of 8 a.m., 62,739 pediatric appointments for children ages 5 to 11 had been booked across the province, Alberta Health said.

There are 2,057 appointments booked for Friday in Edmonton, and 1,750 appointments in Calgary.

'A long time coming'

Michelle Power took her sons Christian 7, Scott, 10, and Shane, 11, to get their shots Friday morning at a south Edmonton clinic.

Power said she got up early on Wednesday to ensure she could get appointments for all her boys as soon as possible.

"I'm excited because we are really looking forward to doing some normal things, just hanging out with friends," she said.

"It's been a long time coming."

Power's boys were excited, too, looking forward to spending more time with friends and returning to the classroom with protection against COVID-19.

"I'm excited because soon we'll be able to do stuff again," Shane said. "Being able to have fun all the time and basically just get back to normal."

Pediatric vaccinations, approved by Health Canada last week, are primarily being offered at 120 Alberta Health Services immunization clinics around the province.

The vaccines will also be offered to younger children at four pharmacies in communities with no nearby AHS clinics — Warburg, Clive, Legal and Alix — and at public health clinics and nursing stations in First Nations communities.

Data shows the vaccine is 90.7 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in children between the ages of 5 and 11.

The recommended interval between the first and second doses for children aged five to 11 is at least eight weeks.

Dr. Iris Gorfinkel, a Toronto family physician and vaccine researcher, said the shot is highly effective but how long the protection provided by the vaccine will last in children is unclear.

"We really don't know the answer to that question," Gorfinkel said. "We will know over time but that children can get vaccinated, and are getting vaccinated, is a tremendous step forward.

"It's a milestone and I don't think we can take it for granted."

According to Alberta Health Services, the vaccine is well tolerated and most side effects, in children as in adults, are mild. They include pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, chills, joint pain, muscle pain and fever.

Children are often wary of needles but Gorfinkel said parents can distract kids by letting them play a game on their phone or tablet, or by letting them listen to a song on their headphones.

She said a reward, such as a lollipop, also goes a long way to making the experience positive for kids.

"The mind cannot be in two places at once," she said. "That's just another sense we can engage ... and set the stage for success."

Applying a numbing cream a few minutes before getting the shot can also make the process painless for younger children, Gorfinkel said.

"It's not a magic cream, but that's what I tell them."

Vaccine appointments can be made online here or by calling 811. Walk-ins for this age group are not currently available.

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