TORONTO — Ten young kids rolled up their sleeves in Toronto to become the first to receive child-sized doses of COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario Tuesday, hours after families across the province went online to book long-awaited shots for children aged five to 11.
The first jabs went into little arms late in the afternoon after some pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech shots arrived early at a vaccine clinic. The City of Toronto said children connected with SickKids Hospital were offered the first shots.
Health Minister Christine Elliott, who was on site, thanked the "very brave" children for doing their part to end the pandemic.
"They really, truly were superheroes, coming forward to receive the vaccination," she said. "They're protecting not only themselves, but their friends and their grandparents and parents and their community."
Stickers and applause were handed out after the kids got their needles. The city said a small number of clinics would vaccinate children on Wednesday, before appointments for many more in the young cohort pick up Thursday.
The province said more than 87,500 vaccine appointments for young kids had been booked using its portal as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. That didn't include bookings through individual health units, pharmacies and primary care sites offering the shots.
The provincial booking system officially opened for child appointments at 8 a.m., though some parents reported they were able to sign on slightly earlier.
Toronto mom Kate Southwell said she managed to get in by 7 a.m., with a shot booked for her five-year-old son for Thursday afternoon. Southwell said the appointment is a relief for her family members, who've been sticking within their small bubble while waiting for pediatric vaccines.
"He's really excited to hug his friends and teachers again," she said of her son Scott, who is eager to get immunized despite some nervousness about needles.
"He'd really hoped that the kids vaccine would be a lollipop instead of the needle," she said. "But we just got his flu shot several weeks ago and took a video of him right afterwards saying that it didn't hurt at all, so we've just been playing that video for him over and over again."
In Norfolk County, Teri Mackinnon had trouble accessing her local health unit's booking portal, but after waiting a few hours she was able to book a Dec. 3 shot for her 10-year-old daughter Emma.
Mackinnon said she would have preferred an earlier appointment given the rising COVID-19 cases in the Haldimand-Norfolk area and high-risk health conditions in her family, but she said it's still a good feeling to finally have her daughter booked after nearly two years of public health precautions.
"It's so much better just to know that it's finally come for them," Mackinnon said by phone. "This is kind of a means to an end for them, where they get to have more of a life again."
The Opposition New Democrats raised concerns in the legislature about parents who were unable to make appointments for more than one child at the same date, time or location.
Legislator Catherine Fife also criticized the Progressive Conservative government for not allowing parents to pre-register their children for appointments, as other provinces had done before Health Canada approved the shots.
"This chaos could have been avoided. There shouldn't be more roadblocks for families. They've already been through enough," Fife said.
Elliott responded by defending why the province didn't allow pre-booking, saying it was unclear when the vaccines would be approved.
She said parents can get around issues booking appointments for more than one child by calling the phone line for the booking system. Elliott also said parents with questions about COVID-19 vaccines for kids can call a provincial contact centre to get more information, or access a consultation service offered by SickKids hospital over the phone.
Parents or decision makers for children will usually have to provide consent at their child's vaccine appointments or fill out a paper consent form, which the province has said will be available online or at clinics.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends children receive the COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days before or after another vaccine like a flu shot to better monitor for side effects. A spokeswoman for the health minister said Ontario is following that guidance, but people who want to receive two different vaccines within the 14-day window "may do so with informed consent."
Meanwhile, in Windsor, Ont., local police said officers would be present at COVID-19 vaccination sites where protests were being planned. In a tweet Tuesday, the force reminded people to stay on public property and not disrupt hospital operations.
Windsor Regional Hospital responded in a Twitter post that attempts to prevent people, especially children and parents "from accessing critical healthcare services such as the COVID-19 vaccine is reprehensible and repugnant."
Ontario reported 613 new COVID-19 cases and nine deaths from the virus on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press