Health Canada has approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six months to five years. On Thursday morning, the Government of Saskatchewan announced it is working to roll out those vaccines shortly.
The vaccines will be administered in doses one-quarter the size of that approved for adults.
The province says it is placing its order for the jabs now. It anticipates that a supply will be available in the province during the week of July 18.
The government says it will announce details of how it will deliver these vaccines throughout the province before the doses arrive.
Parents breathe sigh of relief
Kyle Fisher, a father of two in Saskatoon, has only been a parent during pandemic times. His two-and-a-half-year-old son was born right before COVID-19 hit Saskatchewan in March 2020 and his infant is just four months old.
Fisher said he's relieved his oldest son can finally be vaccinated and that his youngest will follow close behind.
"I think the added pressure has been kind of tremendous. It's hard enough learning to be a new dad and new parent when you have all of these support structures and when you can take your child to events and when you can sort of let loose with other parent groups," Fisher said.
"Not being able to do that has been extraordinarily difficult. My wife and I kind of feel like it's just been us against the world sometimes. Especially last year, when all the adults in our lives were able to be vaccinated and it kind of felt like the kids under five are left behind."
Meanwhile in Regina, Sarah Wilke said she cannot wait to get her three-year-old daughter vaccinated. She said the pandemic has been a "scary" time. Her family has been extra vigilant about keeping the toddler healthy, anxiously waiting for vaccination to be approved.
Wilke said she doesn't have a lot of faith that the provincial government will be able to meet the demand in a timely manner.
"I feel like in more recent months and even the last little while, the province kind of turned its back on us as parents by removing things like the vaccine mandates and masking. So I kind of have less faith that the province will be able to roll this out in the most efficient, easiest way possible," Wilke said.
Wilke hopes for a single booking system for the children and would like to see drive-thru vaccination options again.
As for preparing her little girl for the jab, Wilke said she's not worried.
"She's not quite old enough to be scared yet or know what's happening. We just say, 'Oh, we're going to go get our vaccine.' And she just thinks it's a little pretend needle that she has in her doctor kit that she jabs mommy with 20 times in a row."
A long time coming
Dr. Mahli Brindamour, a Saskatoon pediatrician, said Thursday's news sparked joy and excitement in the Saskatchewan medical community.
"We've been waiting for that for a very long time and we're so happy to finally see that coming. But also when we protect children, we protect everyone. We protect their caregivers and their grandparents and their little siblings. And so it's a good day for us," said Brindamour.
The doctor said studies in pediatrics always take longer than for adults, partly because children are so "fragile and important."
It also takes some time to recruit enough participants for the studies to be valid.
Brindamour said it's important that parents are vigilant about vaccinating their young children, as COVID-19 is still a threat.
"It's not true that children don't suffer complications from COVID. They do get admitted to the hospital. Some of them go to the ICU. Some of them even died in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada. So it does happen," she said. "Even just to be sick is a big deal for a child, and even for their family."
Brindamour hopes the province will make the vaccine accessible for everyone by implementing communication campaigns and facilitators.
"For example, having interpreters on site or having community leaders advertise a vaccine, having transportation support, having opening hours that are friendly for people who work during the day or who have multiple children to look after."
Pharmacies do not give vaccinations to children under five years old, and many also won't give vaccines to those 12 and under.
"It really needs to be in the hands of the SHA and the health ministry so that the vaccine is available in clinics and hospitals and in large centres like we saw at the initial adult vaccination," Brindamour said.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is expected to post its guidance for these vaccines soon. The province says this will help inform policies around intervals, and around immunizing children who are at risk or immunocompromised.
The province says the initial Moderna vaccine supplies for this young age group may be limited, so its plans may include a staged approach to delivery.
The vaccine requires two doses given about four weeks apart.
Pfizer's pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for young children between six months and five years old was submitted to Health Canada last month and is still under review.