The province of New Brunswick will begin administering doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to children aged five to 11 by the end of the week.
“Many New Brunswick parents and guardians have been waiting eagerly for the opportunity to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19,” said Health Minister Dorothy Shephard during a news conference Tuesday.
“And I’m pleased to announce that as of Friday, they will have the opportunity to do so.”
Shephard said pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine have already started arriving in New Brunswick and beginning Tuesday, parents can begin booking appointments for their children.
The vaccine will first be offered through regional health authority clinics, but they will be made available through participating pharmacies and some physicians “very soon,” said Shephard.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said. “Since the pandemic began nearly two years ago, I know that parents’ greatest concern has been protecting their children from COVID-19.”
Shephard said while this is a “positive announcement,” she understands that some parents might be unsure about having their children vaccinated.
She noted that with contagious strains like the Delta variant, the province has seen an increase in children with COVID-19. She said 30 per cent of all cases since the beginning of September have involved youth under the age of 20.
Shephard said there are no plans yet to make vaccines mandatory for children to do things like extracurricular activities or eat at restaurants.
“We really don’t want parents under any more duress, we want them to be able to get their education into the vaccines as freely as they will,” she said. “As we’ve done with all of the other processes, we are opening it up and we’ll see how it goes.”
mRNA vaccines not new
Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, added that while the concept of mRNA vaccines may be unfamiliar to many people, the technology behind mRNA vaccines is not new.
“Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades to explore treatments for everything from the flu, to Zika virus, to rabies,” she said.
“I do want to reassure parents that the development of these vaccines was not rushed. Because of the urgency of the pandemic, vaccine developers worked with scientists around the world to gather scientific data at the same time, and this unprecedented level of global co-operation allowed mRNA vaccines to complete all clinical trial stages.”
Russell said 87.5 per cent of New Brunswickers aged 12 and up are fully vaccinated and 93.4 per cent have had their first dose.
Beginning Monday, the province will begin including children aged five to 11 — about 54,500 people — in their statistics, and Russell said this may cause the rate of vaccination to go down, but she expects it to rise again as more children get vaccinated.
She said children will need two doses for full protection, with each dose at least eight weeks apart.
Getting your kids ready
Dr. Rachel Ouellette, a Fredericton-based pediatrician, said the vaccines for children are a third of the size of those for people aged 12 and older and have been “thoroughly tested” and are safe for children.
She said it’s common to experience side effects from the vaccine, like a sore arm or flu-like symptoms. Those with symptoms lasting longer than 72 hours should see their health-care provider, she said, adding that more serious symptoms are “extremely rare.”
Ouellette also said some children might be scared to get the shot.
“While many parents have been eagerly waiting to have their children vaccinated, we all know it isn’t always easy to convince the kids to get a needle. My kids call them pick-picks,” she said.
“In my practice I often encounter children who are scared of needles, and I know how difficult it can be as a parent to see your child experiencing fear or distress.”
She recommended that children bring their favourite toy to their appointment, as well as a distraction like a book or a phone. “It’s OK to give them screen time for this scenario,” she said.
Children can also be given a sense of control by getting to choose which arm gets the shot.
Ouellette also said some parents may be hesitant to get their children vaccinated because they might feel that they are less at risk of contracting or getting seriously ill from the virus.
“While some cases of COVID-19 in kids are mild and asymptomatic, it is also true that some kids have become very sick. They can end up hospitalized, or even die,” she said.
“Long-term COVID-19 complications, or symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty concentrating, can last for months after the infection.”
Ouellette added that children have missed out on a lot during the pandemic: they’ve missed school, extracurricular activities, social events and have been unable to see family members.
She said New Brunswickers can help regain control over the fourth wave of the pandemic by ensuring their whole family is vaccinated.
“We know that over the last 20 months, our kids have had to miss out on so much, yet they’re so resilient,” she said.
“By choosing to vaccinate your child, you can ensure they are able to continue with their daily routines and will not have to worry about missing out on important events and activities.”
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