Ontario parents start booking COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11

WATCH ABOVE: On the first morning parents were able to book children aged 5-11 for their COVID-19 vaccines, some parents were coming up against issues finding appointments. Ontario’s health minister was also facing criticism for the online booking portal’s inability to deal with families with multiple children. Matthew Bingley has more.

TORONTO — Ontario parents rushed online in the tens of thousands Tuesday to book long-awaited COVID-19 vaccines for their young kids, with many expressing relief at finally having the shots in their calendars.

More than 68,000 COVID-19 vaccine appointments for kids aged five to 11, and those turning five this year, were booked by 10 a.m., a spokeswoman for Premier Doug Ford said in a social media post. That figure doesn’t include bookings through individual health units, pharmacies and primary care sites offering the shots.

The online booking portal officially opened for appointments at 8 a.m., though some eager parents reported they were able to sign on slightly earlier.

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Toronto mom Kate Southwell said she started checking online early and managed to get in by 7 a.m., with a shot booked for her five-year-old son for Thursday afternoon — the earliest date the province has said it expects to start administering the shots.

Southwell said the appointment is a relief for her family members, who have been sticking within their small bubble while they wait for pediatric vaccines, even as the adults were vaccinated against the virus.

“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.”

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COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Ontario kids 5 to 11 can be booked starting Tuesday

People can also book by phone, through local public health units using their own booking systems and at some pharmacies and primary care providers.

Parents or decision makers for children will usually have to provide consent at the their vaccine appointments or fill out a paper consent form, which the province has said will be available online or at clinics.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 400,000 doses of the pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were expected Monday, with more than 600,000 more to come in a later shipment.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends children receive the 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.”

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 date given the rising unit 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 also 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.

“This is a situation that can be dealt with very, very easily by simply making the phone call,” she said.

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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.

The police force in Windsor, Ont., said Tuesday that officers would be present at COVID-19 vaccination sites where protests were being planned. In a tweet, the force reminded people to stay on public property and not disrupt hospital operations.

Windsor Regional Hospital responded in a Twitter post that said 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. Elliott said 318 of the infected people are not fully vaccinated.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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