Ottawa parents are being told their children born in 2017 who aren't yet five years old, but were able to get a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month, will potentially wait several months for a second dose instead of the recommended eight weeks.
Children who turned five in 2021 were able to get their first dose before their birthday, but a change in policy this year means children will have to wait until their fifth birthday to get their first dose.
The same policy is now in place for 17-year-olds who want to book appointments for their booster dose. They have to turn 18 first.
Unfortunately for some eager families, the change in policy was not communicated to local public health units and the change was not made in Ontario's vaccine booking system.
Ottawa Public Health confirmed it vaccinated almost 300 four-year-olds in the early days of January. This week it sent a letter to the parents of those children clarifying their child won't be eligible to get a second dose until their fifth birthday.
That's despite a recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) for an interval of eight weeks between doses for children ages five to 11.
'Left behind on so many levels'
Rebecca Schein says she feels let down by the province and public health, with little guidance about the implications of waiting months longer than the recommended interval.
"It didn't occur to me that they would then just leave us in this policy black hole," said Schein, whose four-year-old was vaccinated earlier this month.
Her daughter will now need to wait until April for her second dose, while her three-year-old daughter is not yet eligible for a vaccine.
"As the parent of kids under five, I've really felt left behind on so many levels throughout this whole pandemic," she said.
WATCH | Mother on being let down by public health officials:
Kiavash Najafi's four-year-old son was also vaccinated on Jan 4, and now he will have to wait at least until September, which is eight months away, for his second dose.
"I respect the rules, obviously," Najafi said. "But we are in the middle of a very, very awful wave of this pandemic. If he was able to get that full vaccination, it would be a lot more comfortable sending him to a classroom with 26 other kids."
Some questions remain unanswered
In a statement, OPH said parents of four-year-olds born in 2017 were only able to book appointments "due to an error with the provincial COVID vaccine booking system."
It said the error has since been resolved and "OPH must follow the latest available provincial guidance and direction for the administration of vaccines."
That guidance states doses given to four-year-olds count as a valid dose until they're eligible for a second. They do not need to restart their vaccination series, but must wait until they are five for the next dose.
WATCH | Nine months between doses instead of three to eight weeks:
Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson Bill Campbell said the change in eligibility from birth year to birth date was made to avoid vaccinating children who might have just turned four late in 2021 and wouldn't be five for many months.
While NACI recommends at least eight weeks between doses, "the interval can be longer" and a longer interval between doses "may provide a longer lasting protection," he said
Najafi and Schein say none of this information was included in the OPH letter and they don't fully trust the change in policy.
"I want to know that if I'm being told I need to wait until my kid turns five to get this shot, that's based on some evidence-based health research and not just a bureaucratic fix for a bureaucratic mistake," said Schein.