By Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Jordan Omstead
Ontario parents expressed relief Thursday after the province announced that COVID-19 vaccinations for infants and preschoolers could start being booked late next week.
The province said pediatric vaccine bookings for children aged six months to under five years will open at 8 a.m next Thursday.
Karen Gilbert said she was thrilled about the announcement. Her entire family is vaccinated except “the one that needed it the most” – her four-year-old son Jasper, who has complex care needs.
“This is fantastic news and I will be one of the first ones hopefully lining up to get it,” the Ottawa-area mother said by phone. “I couldn’t be happier.”
The family has put a “wall of protection” around Jasper for the last two years, but Gilbert said it’s been challenging to skip out on birthday parties and visitors.
“Keeping him safe and protected is super important,” she said.
Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the lower-dose Moderna shot will give young family members protection against COVID-19.
“Getting vaccinated remains the best defence against COVID-19,” she wrote in a statement.
“I encourage parents with questions to reach out to their health care provider, the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre or the SickKids COVID-19 Vaccine Consult Service to make an informed choice for their family.”
Shots can be booked through the province’s online portal, public health units that use their own booking systems, pharmacies, Indigenous-led clinics as well as some primary care providers and pediatricians.
Moderna’s pediatric shots are being distributed across Ontario over the next several days, the province said.
The Opposition New Democrats called on the government to ensure family doctors and pediatricians had access to the vaccines.
Health critic France Gélinas said the party “shares the immense relief” of parents but noted that many would prefer to take their children to their own family doctor for the shot.
“Many family physicians and pediatricians have not had a steady supply of vaccine doses, or have found it difficult to get information about if and when they’ll get doses for their patients,” she said in a written statement.
“We’re calling on the Conservative government to urgently ship doses to all family physicians and pediatricians, and keep them coming.”
The news follows a federal announcement last week that Health Canada had approved Moderna’s two-dose pediatric vaccine for young children. The vaccine can be administered in doses one-quarter the size approved for adults, Canada’s drug regulator said.
Immunocompromised youth aged 12 to 17 will also be able to schedule second booster doses next Thursday if six months have passed since their first booster dose, or fourth shot.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer, said COVID-19 vaccines are safe and will help protect children from the virus, noting that some can become very sick and require hospitalization.
“Even if a child has already had COVID-19, vaccination will help to further improve the immune response and provide more robust protection,” he said in a written statement.
“I encourage every parent and caregiver to consider getting their younger children vaccinated and protected, especially if they are immunocompromised or have other serious medical conditions.”
Stephanie Bergman’s daughter was born on the day the first COVID-19 case was reported in Canada.
Two and half years later, Bergman said the prospect of booking a vaccine for her daughter is both exciting and frustrating. Frustrating, she said, because it seems as though the government has lost the urgency it demonstrated with earlier rollouts of the vaccine.
In November, Ontario opened vaccine bookings four days after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved for kids ages five to 11. When appointments for preschoolers and infants open on Thursday, it will have been two weeks since approval.
“I just wish that we treated this age group the same as the previous. But I am so excited to be able to say yes to more things and get a taste of normal parenting because all of my parenting experience has been through the pandemic,” she said.
Once her daughter gets vaccinated, Bergman said she looks forward to taking her to swimming lessons, playdates with friends and her first dinner at a restaurant.
She said it will also alleviate concerns her daughter could infect friends and family – especially grandparents.
Bergman said she would have liked the government to offer a more clear list of appointment options near her home in North Bay, Ont., so she could begin to prepare her daughter. She would also like to see the province make masks mandatory at vaccination sites.
And if vaccines designed to protect against new variants are introduced in the fall, Bergman said she hopes the approval for young kids will follow in short order.
“How are we going to get these kids caught up so that they’re not always a year and a half behind?”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2022.