Sean McDonald was lying in bed on Tuesday morning when a friend texted him to say Ontario’s online portal to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments for children aged 5 to 11 had opened early.
“I swear to God I’ve never bolted out of my bed and flown down the stairs faster,” said Mr. McDonald, a father of two children, aged 7 and 9, who lives in Toronto.
He said the process of booking vaccine appointments for his children was quick, easy and, above all, emotional.
“Honestly, I shed a tear,” said Mr. McDonald, national managing partner and chief strategy officer at Rethink, an advertising agency. “It was the culmination of one year of quiet terror of how to protect our kids.”
With 2.9 million pediatric vaccines now in Canada, tens of thousands of parents such as Mr. McDonald are rushing to book appointments. Demand has been high at the onset – but it remains unclear as to how many parents will choose to inoculate their children after the initial dash.
The vaccines are arriving as the incidence rate of COVID-19 among those aged 5 to 11 is higher than in any other age group, Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said last week. And while most children will fully recover from COVID-19, a small number are at risk for serious cases and long-lasting severe health problems, including multisystem inflammatory syndrome, long COVID and other issues.
Across the country on Tuesday, provinces geared up to get needles into arms.
The first pediatric vaccines in Canada were given out in Toronto, to 10 young people from the Hospital for Sick Children. In Ontario, more than 87,500 appointments were booked through the provincial system by end of day Tuesday, and even more through individual public-health units. The bulk of the vaccinations will start Thursday, with a “limited number” happening on Wednesday, the province said.
Some in Ontario, however, expressed concerns that the province’s online booking system only accepts appointments for one child at a time – leading some parents of numerous children to report booking slots on different days and even different locations. The government said this can be resolved by phoning the provincial call-in centre.
The vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 will begin on Wednesday in Quebec. In a press conference on Tuesday, Premier François Legault urged anxious parents to get their kids vaccinated so they could safely hug their grandparents at Christmas.
By 5 p.m., when online bookings had been available for less than a day, 80,000 people had already made appointments, out of 650,000 in that age bracket, the Premier said. Vaccination will begin in schools for children with the written permission of their parents next week.
Neha Chugh, a lawyer who lives in Montreal, booked vaccine appointments for her two oldest children, aged 8 and 10, on Tuesday morning.
“It feels like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Ms. Chugh and her husband have been dealing with a “constant juggling act” to sort out who can reschedule to be home with the kids while the other goes to a testing centre whenever one of their children have a cough. The entire family stays home under lockdown until the test comes back.
She hopes getting them vaccinated puts that to an end.
The first shots in British Columbia will happen next Monday. Parents are required to register online and then wait for an invitation to book an appointment; those invitations are expected to go out beginning early Monday morning.
Penny Ballem, who heads the province’s vaccine program, said the arrival of pediatric COVID-19 vaccines will further push down community transmission while also protecting children from severe, albeit rare, complications from the disease.
The province plans to launch a public-health campaign encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated and to ease concerns about vaccine safety. About 350,000 children will be eligible and more than 90,000 had already been registered as of Tuesday.
Dr. Ballem said government survey data show nearly 80 per cent of parents in B.C. plan to get their children vaccinated eventually, including almost 60 per cent who want the vaccine as soon as it’s available.
Alberta is opening its online booking system to younger children Wednesday morning, with the first doses scheduled for Friday. The province already has among the lowest vaccination rates in the country and Premier Jason Kenney has pointed to survey data that suggest only about half of parents of young children in the province intend on getting them vaccinated.
Mr. Kenney said parents should study the data about vaccines and make the best decision for their families, but he made it clear that immunization is the clearest way out of the pandemic. However, he stressed that children under 12 won’t be subjected to the province’s vaccine passport system, which he said would unfairly punish and stigmatize those children for the decisions of those parents.
Both Manitoba and Saskatchewan reported technical issues with their online booking systems, but said the problems were quickly remedied. In Manitoba, more than 21,900 appointments were made by Tuesday, out of approximately 125,000 eligible 5- to 11-year-olds. In Saskatchewan, more than 12,000 appointments were booked for pediatric vaccinations by midday Tuesday.
For his part, Mr. McDonald in Toronto will be taking his kids for burgers and ice cream after their vaccine appointments. He said he knows that Canadians will be living with COVID-19 for some time, perhaps forever, but getting his children vaccinated is a huge step after worrying about them for so long.
“Moments like this make you feel some relief.”
With a report from Eric Andrew-Gee in Montreal
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