The scuttlebutt is that Health Canada will be approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for kids between the ages of 5 and 11 on Friday. According to Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph’s Medical Officer of Health on Thursday, public health is ready to roll out vaccines for children once the word is given, and they’re anticipating that the first doses of vaccine will be handed out at the end of next week.
Compared to the main vaccine rollout earlier this year, don’t look for massive vaccination clinics like the one at the West End Community Centre. Instead, Public Health will be focused on family physicians, family health teams, the Guelph Community Health Centre, select pharmacies, and their vaccine clinic at Stone Road Mall to get vaccine shots into children.
“Right now we have six family health teams, one community health centre, as well as some of our local midwives, who are already planning and preparing clinics for their patients,” Dr. Nicola Mercer explained. “Every part of our area is going to look a little bit different, but the Stone Road Mall location will be our main hub, working collaboratively with the Guelph Family Health Team to vaccinate their patients through that site.”
There are about 23,500 kids between the ages of 5 and 11 in Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph, with about 10,500 kids in Guelph alone. Public Health is anticipating, based on the high rate of uptake among adults, that about 70 per cent of perspective patients, or perhaps their parents, will seek out their shots as soon as possible. Having said that, Mercer recommends patience because everyone will have to make an appointment.
“We really don’t want everybody to show up on the first day, you will get an appointment,” Mercer said. “We are getting the vaccine next week, we’re not going to have enough vaccine for everybody. But the following week, and in the weeks to come, we will have more than enough vaccine for every parent who wants to vaccinate their children. So there’s no panic, there’s no immediate rush, you will get a vaccine.”
Mercer also recommended that people should work through their family doctor where possible if kids are worried about needles, of if parents have questions about the vaccine’s efficacy or side effects. She said part of the intentional smaller scale of this phase of the vaccine rollout is to make kids feel comfortable, and create a similar vaccination experience to what they’ve had in the past.
“What we are planning is something that’s a little bit more intimate, a little bit more relational, a little bit more oriented to the primary care model that kids know, whether they’re going to their primary care provider, or whether they’re even going to their own local pharmacist,” added Mercer. “It’s going to be a little bit smaller model.”
Public Health has set up a special page for parents to get answers about COVID-19 vaccines for kids, and you can find that here.
After the announcement, Mercer then did a Q&A with the gathered members of the media.
Question: Will there be any vaccine mandates for children?
Mercer said that vaccine status will not a barrier to kids going to school. “However, in order to protect your child and to keep them in school, particularly if there’s a COVID case in the school, it’s important to have your child vaccinated to ensure that they’re learning experience continues uninterrupted,” she added.
Message to parents concerned about the vaccine’s effects?
“We have already demonstrated as a community that we believe in vaccination, that it is safe, and that it’s going to protect us from getting this virus, which we do not know the long term consequences of,” Mercer explained noting that 92 per cent of the Guelph population age 12 and over are now fully vaccinated.
“I believe strongly that parents are going to recognize locally that this is important for the health and well-being of their children, so I think that we’re going to see a very strong uptake in our region to vaccinate and keep our children safe,” Mercer added. “Also, we have a lot of experience giving out vaccines to everybody 12 and up. Billions of doses have been given out worldwide.”
My kid just got a flu shot, can they get a COVID-19 vaccine right away?
Mercer explained that the original recommendation of National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to avoid getting another shot around the time you got a COVID-19 vaccine was so that public health could monitor for side effects. It’s a recommendation that’s no longer in place, and, as an adult, you can now get a COVID-19 shot one day and your flu shot the next. Will that be the same for kids though?
“It is possible that NACI might might say something similar [for kids], but there is no medical reason, similar to adults at this time, why a delay should occur,” Mercer said. “We are confident that Ontario will follow the NACI guidance, but this is also a clinical decision between your health care provider and you as to what is best for your child and for your family.”
Is Public Health’s Vaccine Dashboard going to change to reflect the expanded eligibility?
Yes, once kids have been cleared to receive the vaccine the dashboard will be updated, so you might see a temporary decrease in the percentage of total number of first and second shots as over 23,000 more eligible people are added to the rolls.
What role are the boards of education playing?
“When it comes to vaccination, they’re a great channel to get parents the information that they need,” Mercer explained. “As the vaccine is rolled out, this will impact case and contact management within schools because children who are fully vaccinated will not have to stay home from school should there be a case in their classroom, which is the way it is now. So we will keep them in school. and this is really good news for students. It’s less disruptive, as you can imagine.”
Will children turning five in 2022 have to wait for their birthday to get their shots?
Right now, if your child was born in 2009, you do not have to wait until the exact day they turn 12 in order to get a vaccine shot. Mercer said that it will be the same for younger kids when it comes time to get their shots. “The plan is to have a similar model as we move into 2022, so if you are becoming eligible in 2022, then that is that is your important milestone for you being able to be vaccinated,” she said.
Does this mean the pandemic is almost over?
“I strongly believe that this is really going to be the game changer,” Mercer said. “We actually haven’t seen a lot of cases in the youngest of our population, and that’s probably because many of them are home, and have more contacts with adults and the adults around them who can be vaccinated.”
Having said that…
“The most important thing that we can do to prevent this virus from replicating is to prevent it from finding a viable host, so as we vaccinate more of our population, as we ideally pass the 90 per cent of our population vaccinated, that will prevent this virus from circulating,” Mercer explained. “Will it go away completely? Probably not, the flu never goes away completely, and it flares up here and there. But as our population is protected, we can anticipate that vaccines will be the key factor for all of us returning to a much more normal life.”