British Columbia

Clinics open for B.C. kids ages 5-11 to be immunized against COVID-19

Children between five and 11 years old began receiving the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine in B.C. on Monday, the first day the vaccine became available to kids that age across the province.

Facing frustration from parents on Day 1, minister asks families to be 'patient' while booking

Dr. Francis Lee, right, puts a bandaid on Jacob Wolak, 10, after giving him a COVID-19 vaccine in Vancouver, B.C. on Nov. 29, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Huddled together in matching white-and-polka-dot masks, the Wolak siblings glanced around the room and disagreed on how to feel.

Jacob, 10, was positive he was straight-up excited — but maybe just a little bit nervous.

Joshua, 7, felt an even mix between the two. 

Their little sister was not excited at all.

"Nervous," deadpanned Julia, 5.

Julia Wolak, 5, is pictured just before getting her COVID-19 vaccination in Vancouver on Nov. 29, 2021. (CBC)

The siblings were among the children between five and 11 years old who received the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine in B.C. on Monday, the first day the vaccine became available to kids their age across the province.

Their father, Arthur, fed off his kids' nerves and felt jittery, but their mom was certain about how she felt.

"Thrilled. Completely, completely and utterly excited," said Dr. Anna Wolak, standing in line at the Italian Cultural Centre in Vancouver with her family.

"We've been waiting so long to get these little ones vaccinated and this is the protection we can give them."

Children are receiving Pfizer's pediatric vaccine, the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved in Canada for children in that age group. Health Canada approved the vaccine on Nov. 19, adding roughly 350,000 children to the list of those eligible for a shot in B.C.

Invitations to book appointments started going out Monday to families with children who have been registered through the province's portal, with a number of same-day appointments available — but not everyone who'd registered their kids got the invite.

Wolak had signed her children up in October, but didn't get the alert on Monday. She was able to book her children's Monday afternoon appointment after phoning the provincial hotline. 

Adam Chodos had the same experience. He started phoning at 7 a.m. and got an appointment for his family on the fifth try. 

"It took about 45 minutes," said Chodos, who also ended up with an appointment at the cultural centre.

Health minister asks for patience

Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged there might be some frustrations on Day 1 for parents trying to get an appointment for their child, as other people are also trying to book booster shots or making appointments for their first or second vaccination.

"We ask people to be patient, and when their children are invited to be vaccinated to register and get an appointment.''

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said last week that about 350,000 children are eligible for the vaccine. Roughly 104,000 children in that group were registered to receive the invitation to book as of Monday, according to the province.

The province said it was sending 8,000 invitations every hour Monday.

Health Canada approved the pediatric shot for use in Canada after an independent scientific review confirmed the first vaccine formulated for younger children is safe and effective.

Henry, who visited the University Heights vaccination clinic in Victoria on Monday, said the same vaccine has been administered to more than three million children in the United States and there have been no "safety signals" as a result.

Dr. Penny Ballem, the executive lead for B.C.'s vaccination drive, said last week she expects the full children's immunization effort, including second doses, to be done by the end of January.

The Wolak children received their doses Monday one after the other. 

Julia, sitting on her mom's lap and dressed in a "science is magic," T-shirt, squeezed her eyes shut as the needle went in.

Joshua followed, climbing into his mom's lap for his turn.

Jacob, the eldest, did it alone with a single reassuring nod from his dad.

Afterward, the three of them agreed it wasn't what they worried it could've been.

"Better," said Julia.

With files from Bridgette Watson, Isabelle Raghem, Daybreak South and The Canadian Press