Parents elated 'it's happening' as thousands able to book vaccine appointments for Manitoba kids 5-11
Minor system delays resolved as 'very heavy volume' of parents flood online booking system opening day
Thousands of Manitoba parents were up bright and early Monday morning for a chance to get COVID-19 vaccination appointments for their kids as bookings for children as young as five opened for the first time.
Parent Jen Shapka was anxiously waiting for this day and her nerves kept her up through the night, she said.
"Thank you, science," said Shapka, who scheduled an appointment for her 11-year-old. "Manitoba hasn't always been perfect at everything, but on the whole it's been very good."
About 15,000 appointments were booked by 1 p.m. CT out of roughly 125,200 kids age five to 11 in Manitoba, according to provincial vaccine task force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer.
Reimer stressed this isn't indicative of overall interest, given there are so many other options available than there were in earlier stages of the campaign.
Health Canada approved the vaccine for kids last week and shipments of the pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech shot arrive in Manitoba Tuesday. In most cases, local officials recommend waiting eight weeks between doses.
Currently, appointments for kids are only bookable at immunization supersites.
Pharmacists and family doctors are expected to start getting doses between Thursday and next Monday, a provincial official said. The Manitoba vaccine finder app will be updated in the coming days to reflect which have doses.
Pharmacist Chris Mendoza, who owns Prairie Health Apothecary, said she received numerous calls Monday from parents, despite them having zero doses in hand yet.
She would've appreciated more communication from the province.
"It's a little frustrating," said Mendoza. "I get the excitement, you know, I have kids and want to get them vaccinated, but we just have to wait until we get them in house."
Mendoza said she expects high demand for pharmacy appointments since some small children may prefer that setting.
Online glitches, phones tied up
A provincial official said there were minor issues identified shortly after the online booking website launched Monday morning due to "very heavy volumes," but that those were worked out within 30 minutes. Those calling in experienced long waits and were expected to receive a call back in about two hours due to heavy call demand, the spokesperson added.
The Southern Health region experienced a higher than expected volume of requests for appointments, and some parents initially reported getting appointments into mid-December.
Officials said more appointments have since been opened for as early as Sunday.
The initial hiccup frustrated Kyle Penner but he's glad the province remedied the issue. Before the snafu, he booked three appointments for his kids at the Steinbach supersite for next Monday.
Despite the demand, Penner said he understands some parents have reservations.
"We really do respect and understand those questions they have," said Penner, associate pastor at Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach."Our doctors were there when our kids were born and they're their for everything else in between, and this is something we can talk to our doctors about as well."
Safe and effective
Dr. Marni Hanna, a pediatrician and president of the Manitoba Pediatric Society, said the child shot has about one-third the dose of an adult vaccine, but still stimulates a robust immune response.
"This is going to be a key thing that's going to help things to get better and help us to move past this," she told Information Radio guest host Faith Fundal.
Kids and teens account for the largest proportion of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, according to provincial data.
Hanna said the vaccine is safe and effective, and parents can expect the same kind of mild side-effects in their kids that adults may experience the first day or two post-shot, including a sore arm, achy muscles, headaches and fever.
She said the risk of myocarditis, a form of heart inflammation, is higher in the event of a COVID-19 infection than in association with vaccination, plus the condition is treatable.
Reimer said clinical trials in kids showed no serious side effects were detected, including no cases of myocarditis. The vaccine is also nearly 91 per cent effective at preventing infection in kids according to research, Reimer said.
Clinical data on infections also suggests kids generally don't experience severe COVID-19 outcomes as frequently as adults, though at least 27 Manitoba children ended up in hospital — including seven in intensive care — due to the illness over the pandemic, said Reimer.
Kids can however develop something known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome weeks after an infection, which often requires hospitalization, said Reimer. They can also spread the virus to vulnerable people.
"Every child is surrounded by a village of people and every village of people needs protection," she said.
That message appeared to resonate with many parents well before Monday.
Shapka had browsers open on her phone and computer when the online booking system opened at 6 a.m. and a group text going with other mothers who were doing the same.
She encountered some glitches when she initially logged on, but those soon resolved and she was able to set an appointment for Thursday.
"We've been waiting so long and finally getting the last member of my family.… It's happening," she said.
The glitches had Krystal Payne on edge, though she, too, snagged an appointment for her daughter Emby Payne, nine, for Thursday.
Payne's father lives with them, so the family has taken extra precautions because he is at greater risk.
Emby is the last member of the household who hasn't been vaccinated. She has been looking forward to her shot and being able to help keep her grandfather safe, her mother said.
"She's excited to be able to protect him and to just be able to kind of live life a little bit more."
WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | November 22, 2021:
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson, Julien Sahuquillo and Marina von Stackelberg