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Babies and preschoolers received stickers and plenty of praise upon getting their first COVID-19 vaccinations on Thursday as Ontario opened appointments for the shots to the youngest cohort.

Parents expressed relief and excitement at being able to make bookings for their little ones, with some able to secure same-day jabs for their kids while others scheduled shots for the coming days.

Brooke Camlis brought her three-year-old son, Theo, to a mass vaccine clinic at a Toronto shopping mall where he received his shot on Thursday afternoon.

“He had a little passport and they gave him a sticker at each step of the way,” she said outside the clinic. “It was quite a relief to finally get him vaccinated. We feel like we can finally do some things that everybody else has been doing, and do it safely now.”

Camlis said she plans to get her younger child vaccinated when he turns six months old.

In London, Ont., Sapphire Miller was also able to snag appointments for her two sons, aged 15 months and four years old, for Thursday afternoon.

While she wasn’t able to set up the appointments back-to-back – the only available options were several hours apart at a clinic about 15 minutes away from her home – Miller said she was relieved nonetheless.

“This has been a long time coming,” she said. “I’m very happy to give kids some extra protection.”

Appointments for children aged six months to under five years were available through the province’s online booking portal as well as through public health units using their own booking systems, certain pharmacies and some primary care providers.

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird of Ottawa said she opted for a Saturday booking for her four-year-old son to give him more time to prepare for the shot.

It’s a “big relief” to know her son Jasper, who has asthma, will have extra protection against the virus by the time school starts in September, Rothgeb-Bird said.

“He’s probably the most high-risk of everybody in this house ... so it was a nice feeling to be able to book his appointment,” she said, noting Jasper had asked his parents when he would be able to get his vaccine after they got their fourth doses this week.

Others who booked appointments through the online provincial portal Thursday morning reported a relatively quick and painless experience, much different from long queues and technical issues seen during earlier vaccine rollouts.

Toronto mom Isabelle Duchaine said she was happy to have appointments set for Friday for her two toddlers – aged 16 months and two and a half – after a “seamless” booking experience.

“Our plan is to pick them up from daycare, drive over and then celebrate at McDonald’s,” she said.

Robyn Sharpe scheduled a vaccine appointment for her 16-month-old daughter for next week, though the closest available clinic was in Toronto, about a 30-minute drive from her home in Brampton, Ont.

Sharpe said she had mixed emotions about the milestone because she’s concerned that the vaccines are no longer targeting the dominant strain of COVID-19.

“It just kind of feels like the only thing we can do, so we’re going to go ahead and do it, but I wish I was much more excited,” she said.

Public health units covering Toronto, Hastings and Prince Edward counties, and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark were advertising clinics offering shots as of Thursday, with clinics in Toronto taking appointments as of noon.

The immunization effort for the youngest age group is expected to ramp up across the province in the coming days.

Some pharmacies were in position to start vaccinating on Thursday, too, though most were still awaiting supply of the pediatric shots that’s expected to arrive in the coming days, the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association said.

Justin Bates said by email that more than 370 pharmacies are expected to participate in the initial vaccine rollout with young kids, with more potentially added later on once supply increases.

Toronto pharmacist Allan Malek said his vaccine supply didn’t arrive on Thursday, but he’s been encouraging parents to check back frequently for updates. His pharmacy has recently been getting about 20 calls per day from parents eager to book shots for their children, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of requests from concerned parents wanting to get their children and their toddlers vaccinated,” he said outside his pharmacy.

Health Canada approved Moderna’s pediatric shot this month and Ontario’s health minister says the vaccine is safe, effective and will help protect children from the virus.

COVID-19 vaccinations for young children began as Public Health Ontario issued a weekly update on the virus. The week of July 17 to July 23 saw 61 reported deaths from the virus, up from 46 the previous week, the report said.

“A trend of increasing deaths since the beginning of wave 7 is now evident,” the report said, noting that the trend may increase in the coming weeks, and people 80 and older are still seeing the highest case rate increase of all age groups.

Case numbers overall were similar to previous weeks, the report said, with the regions in the north still seeing the highest case rate increases.

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