As authorities try to raise the COVID-19 vaccination rate among children in Montreal, they turned to a big, fluffy, orange secret weapon on Saturday.
The Montreal Canadiens unleashed Youppi! at the Palais des Congres vaccine site along with some other furry friends, and the gang helped put kids at ease as they got the jab.
“I’m proud of myself that I did it,” said 10-year-old Roman Maio.
A therapy dog was also present, helping distract kids from their fear of getting the vaccine.
“I liked it with the dog and the — I’m not sure what he is,” said 10-year-old Ella Biasini, pointing at Cosmo, the mascot of the Laval Rocket.
Parents appreciated the collaboration between the Canadiens and Montreal public health officials.
“I love having the mascots because it gave the kids something to look forward to afterwards instead of thinking about the moment of getting the needle,” said Rosanna Maio, mother of Roman.
“Having all these people here, this sort of festive attitude really helps after the shot, I think very definitely calmed him down a lot quicker,” said Jamespencer Ranjitsingh, who said his five-year-old son had been scared to get the vaccine at school but did get it at the Palais des Congres.
The Canadiens have been part of vaccination efforts throughout the pandemic, regularly arranging pop-up clinics at the Bell Centre prior to the team’s games.
They were happy to support public health by lending their logo, their mascots and some lunch bags full of goodies.
“For us, that’s part of the solution to get some people back into Bell Centre, so everything we can do to support them, we’re always happy to do so,” said Patrick Bigras, Groupe CH vice-president hospitality.
“I think it helps to encourage people to come, makes it a simpler process for the kids and takes away a bit of the fear and helps with the distraction,” said Piero Biasini, Ella’s father.
For public health officials, the hope is that events like this increase the vaccination rate in a part of the population that’s a bit behind.
“Children from five to 11, actually, we need to get a little bit up for the first dose, which is about 72 per cent now,” said Danny Raymond, a spokesperson with the CIUSSS Centre-Sud. “It’s as low as 41 per cent for the second dose.”
For parents, seeing their children get the shot is a huge weight off their shoulders.
“I feel relieved and thankful for everybody here, and I feel relieved that it’s done and our whole family is fully vaxxed and maybe a little bit back to normalcy soon,” said Rosanna Maio.
Parents at the event said they’re now more confident sending their kids to school, and feel like they’re doing their part to help end the pandemic.