Puppies, princesses and superheroes have been dispatched to Quebec's vaccination centres to help the province's youngest citizens get vaccinated.
Children age five to 11 are now eligible to get vaccinated in the province, and officials have been busy making preparations to put youngsters — and their parents — at ease.
Jean Nicolas Aubé, a spokesperson for the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montreal, said they worked to make sites like the Palais des congrès more kid-friendly.
"What's important, for us, is to offer a vaccination site that's calm. We didn't want to upset the kids," he explained.
Marie-Ève Brunelle, who's in charge of COVID-19 vaccinations and screening for the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, said all the professionals working at the sites want children to feel comfortable in the process.
"We want to offer quality care and a positive experience, because this vaccination experience will stay with them all their lives," she said.
WATCH | Quebec's vaccine program for children explained:
Here are some of the things families can expect when they take their children to be vaccinated.
Smaller spaces, updated decor
Dividing walls have been brought in to make the large, open spaces quieter and more private for families.
While adults had to move from station to station to complete the vaccination process, Brunelle said families stay put in one spot, where every step of the process is handled. Siblings will also get vaccinated together.
Balloons, posters, and wall stickers now decorate many of the centres, to give the area a more festive and welcoming atmosphere.
In Quebec City, some vaccination centres even have a jungle theme, complete with palm trees and giant butterflies.
Games and activities available
Brunelle said there are also games and activities along the process, like hunt-and-seek games where children have to find something hidden in a picture. The children can play the game while they get their shot as a distraction.
The Quebec government has also created a colouring sheet for the kids to complete while they wait the obligatory 15 minutes after getting their dose.
In addition, Brunelle said there are stickers and temporary tattoos to congratulate kids once they're finished.
Stuffed animals are also welcomed, to help their humans feel at ease.
Puppy love with therapy animals
Therapy animals will also be going station to station at some vaccination sites, to help children who may be feeling particularly anxious.
Bémole the dog was on duty Wednesday at the Montreal convention centre, accepting pets before, after and even during the injections.
Brunelle said there may not always be a therapy animal on site, but they will have at least one every day, with a focus on the evenings, when kids may be coming after a long day at school.
Puppies aren't the only ones there to comfort kids. The CIUSSS du Nord-de-l'Île-de-Montréal said princesses and superheroes will also be visiting their sites to chat with the kids.
The moment of truth
Nurse Carole Richer vaccinated the first kids at the convention centre on Wednesday. She said it's important for parents to prepare their children and explain what's going to happen when they get there.
Once the child is at her station, she makes sure to keep a relaxed atmosphere and speak directly to the child.
"I explain every step to make sure he knows what's coming. If he has questions, or if he's afraid, I ask him to talk to me about it before," she explained.
She said most of the children are well prepared and eager to get vaccinated.
"Children, they're not that afraid, most of them. They do very well, because they understand [why it's important]."
Seven-year-old Rosa Lymberiou said she was "a little scared" to get the vaccine, but she's excited to go to Florida to visit her grandmother.
She said two kids in her class caught COVID-19, and when she was asked what she'd tell her friends, she said she'll encourage them to get the shot too.
"I'll tell them that it doesn't hurt, so they won't be scared and they'll be able to take the vaccine," she said.
"Because I don't want any of my friends to get COVID."