First day of paediatric vaccine eligibility ‘great day’

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The long wait is over for Manitobans eager to get their babies and toddlers vaccinated against COVID-19.

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The long wait is over for Manitobans eager to get their babies and toddlers vaccinated against COVID-19.

When the province expanded eligibility to all children ages six months to four years, and opened appointment booking Friday, some parents breathed sighs of relief.

“Parents of kids under five have been knocking their heads on the wall, for many of them, since the beginning of the pandemic, trying to keep them safe and trying to not expose them to much, and I think it’s really, really hard. So today’s really a great day that we can get a first shot in the arm for our little kids,” said Julie Lajoie, a University of Manitoba virologist and mother of two daughters. (One is not yet two years old, the other turned five last week.)

The province has expanded eligibility to all children ages six months to four years and started taking appointments on Friday. (The Canadian Press files)

Lajoie said she’d been waiting for her daughters to become eligible for the Moderna pediatric vaccine, but ended up getting them their first doses during a recent vacation in Quebec.

Families shouldn’t fear adverse reactions to the vaccine among their little ones, she said. Studies have shown the risk of side-effects to be even lower than the already low risk in older age groups.

One of her daughters experienced no reaction at all to the vaccine, while the other had a daylong fever — a sign the immune system is kicking into gear, Lajoie said.

It’s too early to tell what vaccine uptake will be like among this youngest group of Manitobans.

Uptake in children ages five to 11 is 42 per cent across Canada, much lower than uptake for adults. That may be due to the mistaken belief COVID-19 infections in children are always mild, Lajoie said, emphasizing children can still suffer severe infections and are at risk for long COVID.

Better masking practices in general, and improved ventilation and air purification in schools and daycares, specifically, would help lower transmission come fall, Lajoie said.

“That could bring us so much further than (where) we are right now in terms of prevention. It’s hard to understand why it is not on the table already, but today is a good day for parents who want to have their kids vaccinated — and we will celebrate that part.”

One Winnipeg mother of two boys under five set her alarm Friday morning in preparation for booking the long-awaited vaccine appointment. An hour-and-a-half before the 9 a.m. alert went off, her three-year-old son tested positive for COVID.

“The disappointment — the exact day we could have made that phone call is when the positive test came,” said the woman who asked not to be publicly identified because she has previously received hateful comments online for speaking in favour of vaccination and masking.

The pediatric vaccine was a “beacon of hope” to help protect her children against the novel coronavirus, something the family has been trying its best to do for the past 29 months, she said.

“We just want to get through this pandemic knowing that we did everything we can for our kids.”

Their family doctor and Health Links advised them to wait two months post-infection before booking a vaccine appointment, she said. By that time, his now-four-month-old brother will be eligible, too.

“We’ve already waited this long, we can be cautious a little bit longer — and we will be.”

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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