Excitement, relief as Alberta children get their first COVID-19 vaccines

There were smiles, some tears and hundreds of Band-Aids plastered on little arms as Alberta's COVID-19 vaccination clinics opened their doors to children Friday.

Thousands of kids booked to get shots Friday

A girl prepares for her first COVID-19 shot. Today, the first vaccine appointments are rolling out for eligible children aged 5-11. (Alberta Health Services)

There were smiles, some tears and hundreds of Band-Aids plastered on little arms as Alberta's COVID-19 vaccination clinics opened their doors to children Friday. 

Appointments for Pfizer-BioNTech's pediatric vaccine began Friday morning. Thousands of children were booked to get shots on the first day of the rollout.

Kai Colgan, 6, was happy to roll up his sleeve in Edmonton, for one big reason. Getting the shot will mean he can soon visit family overseas.

"I just wanted to go to Ireland," he said, grinning behind his mask.  "It did not hurt."

Kai's father, Nathan Colgan, said getting his son vaccinated was the right thing to do and the process was seamless.

"The nurses were great. You know, It's pretty scary for some of the kids but they were great with everybody," he said. 

"I thought there were going to be some tears … but he was great.

"I think it's great for everybody to finally get vaccinated so we can get back to living our lives the way we did before." 

Kay Colgan, 6, who received his first dose of vaccine on Friday said the shot did not hurt one bit. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

As of 8 a.m., 62,739 pediatric appointments for children ages 5 to 11 had been booked across the province, Alberta Health said. There were 2,057 appointments booked for Friday in Edmonton, and 1,750 in Calgary.

'A long time coming'

Michelle Power took sons Kristian, 7, Scott, 10, and Shane, 11, to get their shots Friday morning at a south Edmonton clinic.

Power said she got up early Wednesday to get appointments for all her boys.

"I'm excited because we are really looking forward to doing some normal things," she said. "It's been a long time coming." 

Power's boys were excited, too, looking forward to spending more time with friends and returning to the classroom with protection against COVID-19.

"I'm excited because soon we'll be able to do stuff again," Shane said. "Being able to have fun all the time and basically just get back to normal."

Michelle Power took her three sons to get their shots Friday morning at a south Edmonton clinic. (Julia Wong/CBC)

Pediatric vaccinations, approved by Health Canada last week, are primarily being offered at 120 Alberta Health Services immunization clinics around the province. 

The vaccines will also be offered at four pharmacies in communities with no nearby AHS clinics — Warburg, Clive, Legal and Alix — and at public health clinics and nursing stations in First Nations communities.

Megan McDonald, an operations manager with Alberta Health Services, said launch day was a success. 

"There seems to be a sense of excitement, a sense of relief," she said. "Overall, It's been a really great morning." 

McDonald said staff are focused on making the experience a good one for children. 

"We know if we do it right the first time, they'll come back for their second shot."

Data shows the vaccine is 90.7 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in children between the ages of 5 and 11. The recommended interval between first and second doses for children is at least eight weeks.

Dr. Iris Gorfinkel, a Toronto family physician and vaccine researcher, said the shot is highly effective but how long the protection provided by the vaccine will last in children is unclear.

"We will know over time but that children can get vaccinated, and are getting vaccinated, is a tremendous step forward," Gorfinkel said.

According to AHS, the vaccine is well tolerated and most side effects, in children as in adults, are mild. They include pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, chills, joint pain, muscle pain and fever.

Children are often wary of needles but Gorfinkel said parents can distract kids by letting them listen to a song on their headphones or play a game on their phone or tablet.

She said a reward, such as a lollipop, also goes a long way to making the experience positive.

Applying a numbing cream before the shot can also make the process painless for younger children, Gorfinkel said.

"It's not a magic cream, but that's what I tell them." 

Vaccine appointments can be made online here or by calling 811.