Kelly Wolfe wasn't going to sleep on vaccinating her daughter against COVID-19, so she set her alarm clock for 6 a.m. on Monday, the first day appointments were being taken.

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Kelly Wolfe wasn't going to sleep on vaccinating her daughter against COVID-19, so she set her alarm clock for 6 a.m. on Monday, the first day appointments were being taken.

As a result, nine-year-old Charlee was one of the first Manitoba children in line to roll up her sleeve at the Winnipeg Convention Centre Wednesday, Day 1 of the effort to get kids between the ages of five and 11 their first dose.

"I did set it at 6 a.m. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­― I set the alarm to make sure I could book right away," Wolfe said before she and Charlee headed out for the hour-and-a-half drive back to MacGregor.

Charlee Wolfe, with Elfy, was one of the first children in Manitoba to be vaccinated. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Charlee Wolfe, with Elfy, was one of the first children in Manitoba to be vaccinated. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I just wanted her to get vaccinated so she can return ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­― briefly ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­― to everything she could do before all this. She does music and guitar... and she plays basketball... and usually we try to do a family vacation every year.

"I'm hoping we can go to Mexico this year."

Wolfe was so intent on getting Charlee vaccinated as soon as possible she also checked out Brandon, which is about an hour from MacGregor but, because she couldn't get an appointment there until Friday, she opted for the road trip to Winnipeg.

"She is in Grade 4 at MacGregor Elementary, and she went to school until noon and then we got out on the highway," Wolfe said.

Charlee, who was accompanied by Elfy, her elf on the shelf doll ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­― for moral support ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­― said getting the shot was no problem.

There was a steady stream of children heading in and out of the convention centre on Wednesday, including Mary-Elle Clark (from left), Jacob Clark, Elodie Robert, Drew Robert and Madison Brown. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

There was a steady stream of children heading in and out of the convention centre on Wednesday, including Mary-Elle Clark (from left), Jacob Clark, Elodie Robert, Drew Robert and Madison Brown. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"It took two seconds to get it done," she said.

"They did a really good job with the children," her mom added.

Thousands of children are queued up behind her in the days ahead. As of Wednesday, 23,310 kids had secured appointments. That number represents almost 20 per cent of eligible children in just the first three days of online and phone booking.

"This is so impressive, and it underscores what we knew: that Manitoba parents of younger children want to get their children vaccinated to protect them from COVID-19 and to help protect the whole community," said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba's vaccine task force.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin also spoke about the "great enthusiasm" the expansion of vaccine eligibility has presented for this previously unprotected age group, particularly heading into the holiday season when large family gatherings are likely.

In Manitoba, COVID-19 infection rates are rising fastest among children, and some kids who've contracted the virus have already suffered serious health issues. More than 6,000 children aged five to 11 have been infected. In that age group alone, 27 kids have been hospitalized and seven landed in intensive care. One died.

Mary-Elle Clark, 8, shows off her vaccination sticker after getting her shot Wednesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Mary-Elle Clark, 8, shows off her vaccination sticker after getting her shot Wednesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"We're thankful that this virus does seem to be less severe in most kids than it is in older age groups, but it's still causing a lot of illness, it's still causing a lot of disruption. It's causing some severe outcomes for some children, most of whom didn't even have high-risk health conditions that would have put them at higher risk of ending up in the hospital," Reimer said.

She urged parents to get their kids vaccinated, saying doing so is "a great way to protect kids against ending up in the hospital, ending up in the ICU, which is an extremely traumatic experience for a child and for their family."

Some Manitoba children are also experiencing long-term complications post-infection, she said, emphasizing the need to be immunized.

"We also want to see their lives not being so disrupted," she said. "They're being impacted as much, or maybe even more, than the rest of us by how this virus is affecting our communities."

Manitoba is following national recommendations to separate children's first and second doses by at least eight weeks, except for First Nations children who will be able to get their second dose sooner. That's being done based on a decision from the First Nations Pandemic Response Coordination Team in Manitoba, which considered that Indigenous children are at higher risk and would benefit more from a quicker shot at second-dose immunity in the short term, rather than waiting for potentially increased immunity after eight weeks, Reimer said.

Elodie (left) and Drew Robert pose for a photo with their mom, Sara, after getting vaccinated at the convention centre supersite on Wednesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Elodie (left) and Drew Robert pose for a photo with their mom, Sara, after getting vaccinated at the convention centre supersite on Wednesday. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

All pharmacies in Manitoba should have supply of the pediatric vaccine by Monday. Pharmacies and doctors' clinics ordered 30,000 doses for the first round of five- to 11-year-olds' shots. In the meantime, the vaccine is being administered only at provincial supersite clinics.

The process at those locations is changing to be more kid-friendly, Reimer said. Staff are being trained to spend more time with children and parents to answer all of their questions.

"We want to continue to be efficient, but that's not our No. 1 goal when it comes to children who are five to 11. We want this to be a comfortable experience for them and so we are doing things differently," she said.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

kevin.rollason@ freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.