WINNIPEG — Seconds before getting her first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Ava Meconse grabbed her mom's hand and squeezed her eyes shut. Within moments, the vaccine was administered and a sense of relief washed over the family.
Ava, 10, was one of the first 100 kids in Manitoba who received the pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after shipments arrived this week.
Renata Meconse called the day an important one for her family, her daughter and their elders.
"It's something I've been waiting for a long time ... it really feels like our children are going to be a lot safer with the first doses of vaccine going into arms this week," she said.
Manitoba officially launched its provincewide campaign to immunize children ages five to 11 against COVID-19 Thursday morning.
Several kids got a first dose of the vaccine at the RBC Convention Centre super vaccination site in downtown Winnipeg.
Meconse, who works with the Manitoba First Nations pandemic response team, said she looked up resources online to help prepare her daughter for the immunization experience.
"I wanted to feel prepared in talking to her so that I wasn't pushing it on her but that she felt comfortable coming here to get her vaccine, and she definitely was."
After those conversations, Ava told her mom she felt safe getting the vaccine, Meconse said.
The province started administering first doses to younger children Wednesday afternoon — a day earlier than expected.
Nearly 25,000 appointments have been made since the booking system opened for the age group four days ago.
Carlo Cecilio said he's looking forward to taking his eight-year-old daughter out shopping with him without worry now that she has received her first dose.
The family moved to Winnipeg in February from the Philippines where Cecilio said there were strict lockdowns in place. Since moving to the city, the family hasn't been able to do many activities because their children weren't able to be vaccinated.
"Now with the vaccine, we can do normal things. We can go to the mall without getting worried ... which she hasn't been able to do because of safety reasons."
Zooey Cecilio said she was a little nervous at first, but getting the needle felt the same as getting the flu shot.
"It was good. It was just like a little pinch," said Zooey.
Cecilio and his wife believe in the power of vaccines, he said. They did compare the benefits versus any risks and felt it was in their daughter's best interests to get immunized.
"We'll still follow the protocols with the province, but it puts (our) mind into ease because we know she's vaccinated."
Dr. Jared Bullard, a pediatrician whose 11-year-old got a shot, said he's looking forward to his son playing sports without worrying about the virus.
Bullard educated his son Donovan on the benefits of receiving the vaccine, and it appeared that education worked.
When asked by reporters why he wanted to get the vaccine Donovan said, "it lessens the chance of spreading it to other people. It lessens the chance of getting more severe symptoms."
Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba's vaccine implementation group, said families have been waiting a long time for this moment.
"There's this palpable sigh of relief that we're feeling from teachers, from parents, and from a lot of kids as well."
"I hope this is the beginning of our next step of getting out of this pandemic."
Health Canada reports the vaccine is 90.7 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 in this age group.
Currently, the pediatric vaccine is only available in Manitoba at vaccine clinics, but it is to be eventually administered at physicians' officers, pharmacies, urban Indigenous clinics, and some schools.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press