A sense of relief and happiness washed over Trisha Klassen as she confirmed vaccination appointments for her two young boys after waiting months for the chance to offer them protection against COVID-19.
Klassen was one of more than 15,000 parents and guardians in Manitoba who reserved COVID-19 vaccine appointments for kids between the ages of five and 11 when bookings opened Monday at 6 a.m.
"It’s just the relief that we’re on the road, we’re on the way, there’s hope, and the appointments are booked," she said. "I think a great thing, too, is that there are so many parents who are asking questions, that are trying to do this, and that they see the benefit to it, as well."
Like thousands of others, Klassen was in front of her computer before 6 a.m, waiting and ready to secure the earliest-available appointments for her five- and 10-year-old children.
However, as soon as the online booking portal opened, the system crashed under the demand and was offline for about 30 minutes before it started to accept reservations.
Meanwhile, people calling into the province’s vaccine hotline were told their wait time would be two minutes, only to be placed on hold for nearly an hour. A provincial spokesperson said the longest callback time Monday was about two hours.
"It was frustrating because I thought it would have been anticipated that this would happen," said parent Lindsay McDonald. "We’ve been waiting months, and for the system to be in place but not able to handle the volume was frustrating."
However, with some persistence, but not without a bit of stress, McDonald was thrilled and relieved to book a time for her five-year-old son Jack Saturday at the vaccination clinic inside RBC Convention Centre.
“It’s just the relief that we’re on the road, we’re on the way, there’s hope, and the appointments are booked." — Trisha Klassen
She said the day is a significant step toward protecting her two-year-old toddler, who is not eligible for a shot, and ensuring Jack can continue to attend kindergarten uninterrupted.
"I’m so excited to take him myself and be there for what feels like such a momentous occasion," McDonald said. "I’m looking forward to going on Saturday and seeing happy, relieved parents who feel the same way I do."
Provincial vaccine task force lead Dr. Joss Reimer said the first pediatric doses will be administered Thursday.
Approximately 126,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to arrive Tuesday and will be distributed across the province within a week. The Manitoba government estimates there are 125,000 kids between the ages of five and 11.
Pharmacists and physicians, meanwhile, have ordered 30,000 doses that are expected to be delivered between Thursday and Monday; the province’s vaccine finder map will be updated soon to show locations with pediatric doses.
Reimer said she’s "extremely encouraged" by the number of families who have so far booked appointments.
"That’s just wonderful to hear that more than 10 per cent of this whole population was already booked by the first half-day that they were able to book," Reimer said. "Having so many people wanting to book at the same time is a problem that we’re really happy to have."
“Having so many people wanting to book at the same time is a problem that we’re really happy to have.” — Provincial vaccine task force lead Dr. Joss Reimer
Reimer encouraged parents and caregivers to talk to their health-care providers or review information provided by the government if they have questions about the vaccines and the risk of COVID-19 for kids.
"The benefits really do outweigh the risks," she said. "So the decision to vaccinate a child provides more protection and fewer risks than the decision not to vaccinate a child."
Meanwhile, she offered reassurances to rural and northern Manitobans that pediatric doses will be in their communities soon.
Reimer said each health region will be running pop-up clinics, with some opening later this week, and more information will be available in the coming days.
As of Monday, pediatric appointments were being offered only at provincial clinics in Winnipeg, Selkirk, Morden, Steinbach, Brandon, Dauphin and Thompson. Reimer said the province would also add more appointments in Steinbach after demand exceeded expectations.
"I would encourage parents in that area to check back because we do intend to adjust the appointments that are available depending on demand," she said.
As for the Klassen family, as they await their turn at the clinic, their focus will turn to planning a fun and painless vaccination day for the kids. Klassen said she’s been talking about immunization regularly with her young ones and will likely celebrate the long-awaited occasion with some treats.
She hopes staff and volunteers at the clinic will also be allotted enough time to connect meaningfully with the children as they roll up their sleeves.
"They’re going to have a wide range of kids that are going to come in who are excited to do it, and then there’s kids that are nervous and there are kids who do not want to do it," she said. "It’s going to take extra time and I know they’ve been running this for a while and they have a system, but you never know with kids.
"They’re going to need to be prepared."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.