Waiting for Canadian approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 12 has been “sheer torture,” said Dr. Anna Wolak, a family doctor and mother of three in Vancouver.
But on Friday, Health Canada will announce its approval of a Pfizer vaccine for kids aged 5-11, Global News has confirmed.
“I’m ecstatic, I’m thrilled and so relieved, because finally I can protect my little ones a bit more than what we are already offering them now,” Wolak said.
She said she’s already registered her children, aged 10, seven and five, for their shots in B.C.
“We’ve been looking forward to it,” said Kathleen Wolff, a mother in Edmonton. “My nine-year-old has been asking almost every other day, when is she going to get vaccinated?”
It’s unclear how long they will have to wait, though, once the shot gets the green light from Health Canada.
In a statement Thursday, Pfizer said that it has not yet shipped any doses of its pediatric vaccine — which contains one third of the active ingredient as the adult dose — to Canada. Health Canada would not provide any details on timing of shots.
Some still have concerns though.
“If it’s safe, it’s a good idea,” said Gordon Riley, an Edmonton grandfather who is nervous about his grandson being vaccinated. “I have nothing against it, but they’ve tested it so fast. You have to wonder if it’s really as safe as they say.”
Many provinces have already been preparing to vaccinate kids, though plans vary considerably province to province. Manitoba officials have said that the shots will be available at pharmacies, doctor’s offices, clinics in First Nations communities, and at schools.
B.C. will focus on community clinics to vaccinate children. Nova Scotia plans to rely on pharmacies for its initial rollout. Ontario will likely vaccinate kids at schools, though perhaps not during school hours.
Dealing with vaccine fears
No matter the setting, preparation is important to make sure that children aren’t scared when they get their needle — a very common fear, said Christine Chambers, a psychology professor and Canada Research Chair at Dalhousie University.
“I think the most important thing to keep in mind, regardless of the setting, is just making sure that we’re setting up the right conditions for positive vaccination experiences for children,” Chambers said.
This can include framing the experience in a positive light — she’s a fan of a planned Toronto Public Health campaign that urges kids to take selfies of themselves as superheroes. It also means being careful in group settings, where a child might see another child who is frightened and get scared themselves. Ensuring that there is privacy can help with that, she said.
Finally, Chambers said, how parents react to the idea can have a big impact on their child.
“A lot of research shows that when parents get anxious, it actually can make their children’s anxiety and pain from the needle worse,” she said.
Chambers recommends that parents clearly explain to children beforehand what’s going to happen during their appointment, so the child isn’t surprised. Then, at the appointment, distraction can help. She brings along a smartphone with her own kids so they can watch videos while getting vaccinated. And giving your children something to look forward to after the appointment helps too, she says.
In an email bulletin, Ottawa Public Health said that its vaccine clinics will offer numbing spray for kids’ arms, have child-friendly signage and that staff will offer stickers to kids. Children can bring their favourite stuffed animal and listen to music, the department said.
While no one enjoys getting a needle, some kids have fears severe enough to impact their medical care, she said. Parents of extremely needlephobic children should consider seeking out a psychologist who can help the child work through phobias.
Wolak, the doctor and mother, says parents can rest assured that the vaccine will be safe for their kids.
“Health Canada is not going to approve something that that is not going to be safe or effective for kids,” she said.
“So go out, get your kids vaccinated. And so this can be the best holiday present ever.”
— with files from Global News’ Jamie Mauracher