N.W.T. aims to offer 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all kids 5 to 11 by Dec. 15

Yellowknife parents and guardians can start booking vaccine appointments for their five- to 11-year-old children beginning today at 5:30 p.m., said the N.W.T. health minister.

6,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for children will arrive in Yellowknife today

A girl gets her pediatric COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic for children age five to 11 at in Gatineau on Wednesday. Parents and guardians of five- to 11-years old in Yellowknife can start booking appointment for their children Thursday. Appointments begin Friday at the Centre Square Tower vaccine clinic. (Radio-Canada)

Parents and guardians in Yellowknife will be able to book appointments for their five- to 11-year-olds to get the COVID-19 vaccine for kids beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and the first appointments will take place Friday at the Centre Square Mall vaccine clinic.

Premier Caroline Cochrane said at a news conference Thursday the territory will be receiving 6,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine later in the day.

"This is enough to provide a first dose to every eligible child aged five to 11 and begin providing the second doses wherever possible," said Cochrane. 

Health Minister Julie Green said vaccine clinics in other communities will be announced as officials distribute the vaccine across the territory, which she said they will start doing "right away."

"Our plan is to ensure every eligible child in the territory has an opportunity to receive their first vaccine dose by Dec. 15," said Green.

Officials recommend eight weeks between the first and second dose for children aged 5 to 11. However, the territory has said they'll consider children vaccinated two weeks after their first dose, and offer an exemption from self-isolation for those children returning from travel outside of the territory. 

Yellowknife will use the same online booking system that's been used for adults and teens. 

'Turning point'

The N.W.T.'s chief public health officer, Dr. Kami Kandola, said vaccinating children in the territory is "a turning point in N.W.T.'s pandemic response."

She said the fastest growing rate of COVID-19 infection in Canada is now in children under 12. 

"We're hoping that if we get as many children vaccinated as possible from ages five to 11, that we will have less school disruptions, less COVID transmission, less impact on the households and less impact on the communities," said Kandola.

She added that all Canadian health authorities agree the vaccine is safe, and recommend its use.

"The only reason a child should not be offered the vaccine is if they're allergic," she said.

Kandola also added her office will not be making the vaccines mandatory.

"This will be a decision made by the parents and caregivers," she said.

She also said that the voluntary at-home testing program for school-aged children will continue. 

"It allows us to pick up cases early and minimize school disruptions."

Missed the news conference? Watch it here.

Child-friendly clinics

Dr. AnneMarie Pegg, the territory's medical director, said vaccination teams will try to make the experience of getting the shot as pleasant as possible for children.

Pegg said up to two children will be able share the same appointment and have their parents there with them.

The appointments will also be longer than the ones for adults so that children and their parents can ask questions "and get rid of any worries they have," she said.

She said clinics will provide snacks and juice boxes, as well as stickers and some fun pictures on the wall.

Kids about to turn 12: to wait or not to wait?

For children who are on the cusp of turning 12, Pegg said she recommends getting them vaccinated as soon as possible.

"If that means, that they're 11 and they receive the pediatric dose, and then at eight weeks, they are eligible for the adolescent and adult dose, that is a perfectly acceptable vaccine regimen," she said.