Your questions answered about kids and N.L.'s COVID-19 vaccine rollout

·3 min read
The Newfoundland and Labrador government released details on Tuesday about its plan to vaccinate thousands of children in the five-to-11 age group. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press - image credit)
The Newfoundland and Labrador government released details on Tuesday about its plan to vaccinate thousands of children in the five-to-11 age group. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press - image credit)

Tuesday dawned with hefty news for families across Newfoundland and Labrador: the province's next demographic can soon line up for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Health officials now have a plan in place for children ages five to 11 — about 35,000 of them in the province — to get a special, reduced-dose Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

Here's what you need to know.

How do I get my kid vaccinated?

There are two ways to do it. Parents can make an appointment at a community vaccine clinic, with slots available beginning Saturday.

They can also wait until next week when vaccines are offered in schools. It's not clear yet, though, which schools will offer vaccines; it's up to each regional health authority to plan that out, and they'll have that information on their respective websites in the coming days.

Health Minister John Haggie suggested it could be larger schools or perhaps schools in smaller, rural communities that are selected as vaccine clinics.

Parents will need to sign a consent form if they choose the school vaccination option, and they'll also get a letter from the school to notify them of possible dates. Parents can opt out.

Kids will need two doses, and shouldn't get a shot within 14 days of another vaccine for precautionary purposes.

How do I book a clinic appointment?

Online, though the vaccine appointment portal, or by phone by calling your regional health authority.

If booking online, there's an option for the five-to-11 age category.

What do I do if there are no appointments?

Health officials say they believe they'll have enough first doses on hand to immunize children in the province in that age group.

Haggie said his department expects more shipments within the eight-week window for second doses.

Do the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its risks?

Health officials and medical experts believe so.

Dr. Natalie Bridger, a pediatric infectious disease physician, notes the virus has caused death and severe disease in children in Canada.

Then there's the possibility of complications from the disease. About 300 children in Canada have developed something called multisystem inflammatory syndrome as a result of having COVID-19.

Emerging evidence of "long COVID" in kids, Bridger said, with symptoms that could linger for months, might also prompt parents to choose to vaccinate.

There's also a risk of developing myocarditis from the Pfizer vaccine itself — a rare but possible side effect. "That's something that we're watching out for," said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province's chief medical officer of health.

It's not yet clear, she said, how vaccine-induced myocarditis might affect kids and at what prevalence, but Fitzgerald said the country's top experts and regulators have determined the vaccine to be safe and effective in children, and could help Newfoundland and Labrador hit its 90 per cent immunization target.

How can I explain the vaccine to my child?

Health Canada weighs in on this one. Younger kids could benefit from explaining that they might feel a "poke" or "pressure," the health regulator says — but don't give them misleading information and tell them it won't hurt.

Try to answer any questions in an age-appropriate way to reduce the fear over needles, and consider bringing toys or other distractions to a clinic appointment.

If they're really scared, try applying a topical anesthetic from the pharmacy about 30 minutes before they get the shot.

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