Manitoba

As Manitoba kids roll up their sleeves for COVID-19 shot, providers say their comfort is paramount

As thousands of Manitoba children between the ages of five and 11 prepare to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, providers are working to ensure they feel safe and comfortable to get the jab.

More than 23,000 kids from ages 5-11 booked to get their first dose, province says

Manitoba children between five and 11 began getting their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Mary-Elle and her brother Jacob Clark were among the first children between the ages of five and 11 in Manitoba to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Winnipeg's downtown supersite on Wednesday.

"I'm excited, but also a bit nervous," Mary-Elle said.

"After, we're going to go to Boston Pizza for a celebration dinner lunch thing," Jacob added.

As thousands of Manitoba children prepare to roll up their sleeves, providers are working to ensure they feel safe and comfortable to get the jab.

Rosalyn Boucha from Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre says staff at their urban Indigenous vaccine clinic have been busy scaling up their operations in anticipation of the 50 children who are scheduled to get their first doses on Thursday.

Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre offers activities for children as well as traditional Indigenous medicine for people who come through their urban Indigenous vaccine clinic at 363 McGregor St. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The area where the immunizations are administered is now more private to help keep kids from getting overwhelmed, and activity kits full of crayons, colouring books and toys are stocked.

There will also be wellness workers on site to sit with children to calm them down and help watch those whose siblings are getting vaccinated.

"They're just an extra set of support," Boucha said.

Staff at the urban Indigenous vaccine clinic have been working to be family-friendly from the start, offering many of these same supports for children.

"Even when the little ones were not approved yet for the vaccine, it doesn't necessarily mean that they won't be coming in with their families," Boucha said.

Rosalyn Boucha, the communications manager for Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, says the staff at the urban Indigenous vaccine clinic have worked to make it as family-centred as possible. Now that children are eligible for the vaccine, they're ramping it up. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Staff also offer smudging before and after each appointment, and medicine bundles for people to take home.

"It's super meaningful for us to be able to treat the vaccine as sacred medicine and then to be able to use our sacred medicines alongside that in a way that really resonates with the culture," Boucha said.

They also start each day by smudging all the doses of vaccine so that everyone who comes in can smell the sage and sweetgrass.

"That really helps set the tone for the day," she said.

Comfort key when immunizing children

As of Wednesday morning, there were 23,310 appointments booked for pediatric vaccines across the province, more than 18,000 of which were made in the first day, said Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the province's vaccine implementation task force.

"This is so impressive and it underscores what we knew — that Manitoban parents of younger children want to get their children vaccinated to protect them from COVID-19, and to protect the whole community," she said at a news conference Wednesday.

As excited as parents might be for that extra layer of protection for children, Reimer said extra care and consideration is going into the process of giving immunizations.

"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," she said. 

"There will be more time spent with the children making sure that their questions are answered, that they're comfortable, that their parents are comfortable. And so we're just really eager to get started with some doses later today." 

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Tips for parents

If your child is nervous about getting the shot, there are a number of ways to soothe their nerves, experts say.

One thing you can do is pick the appropriate spot for your child to be vaccinated, said Marie Tarrant, a professor in the school of nursing at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

For example, a pharmacy or doctor's office might be more reassuring, "because they know their doctor or they know their nurse that's in the clinic," she said.

Other children might find a vaccine supersite less scary because it isn't as clinical as a doctor's office.

"There are advantages for all settings … but those advantages may be different for different children," Tarrant said.

Devon Greyson is an assistant professor in the school of population and public health at UBC. They say there are a number of ways parents can address their children's worries when they're headed to get their COVID-19 vaccines. (Submitted by Devon Greyson)

Some kids may worry about pain.

Parents can ask health-care providers about using numbing cream in advance, said Devon Greyson, an assistant professor in the school of population and public health at the University of British Columbia.

They could also bring a comforting toy and use neutral language to talk about what will happen.

"Using neutral language would be to acknowledge that, yes, it can hurt a bit when you get a poke, but not to make it sound very large and scary, just to explain the way vaccines work," they said.

"Being very scary about the disease can sometimes backfire and make the child feel more concerned."

Some children are prone to fainting, Greyson said, and can ask to get the vaccine lying down.

Others might have needle phobias and can speak to a counsellor or psychologist beforehand to help them deal with their fears, which will help them throughout their lives.

Back at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Boucha wants parents to know the clinic is open to everybody, with priority given to Indigenous families and the greater North End community.

The vaccine clinic offers both appointments and walk-in slots, but the latter are reserved for people in the immediate area who aren't able to book ahead.

Manitoba kids roll up their sleeves for COVID-19 vaccine

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Manitoba children between five and 11 began getting their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday. 2:23

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Find her on Twitter at @r_bergen or email her at rachel.bergen@cbc.ca.

With files from Alana Cole and Julien Sahuquillo

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