The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is ramping up its plans to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11 as quickly as possible. The urgency comes after the federal government approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for youngsters on Friday.
“So what we’re waiting on at the moment is confirmation of the arrival of the vaccine,” said Dr. Alex Summers, acting Medical Officer of Health for the London region. “But we do anticipate opening up appointments within the week or likely early next week in alignment with whatever direction the province provides.”
Health officials were given additional direction as part of Friday’s federal announcement. The paediatric vaccine will be available to children born in 2016, meaning four year olds turning five will be eligible, according to Dr. Summers. The first and second doses will be offered eight weeks apart.
“We do know that vaccine is arriving in the province early next week,” said Summers. I think we can all say with confidence by next weekend (Nov. 27), if not slightly earlier, needles will begin to be going into arms of our kids, and that’s really exciting.”
The children’s vaccine will be available at both mass vaccination clinics in the Middlesex-London region, which are at the Agriplex on the Western Fairgrounds and at the community centre in Mount Brydges. It will also be distributed to participating primary care clinics as well as participating pharmacies. There will not be a major vaccination roll out at area schools, although a small number of select schools will offer the shot.
Although appointment scheduling is still underway, Summers said it only makes sense for parents with multiple children to take them to a clinic at the same time.
Easing fears around the shot
The MLHU is adopting a vaccine superhero to help put kids at ease if they’re afraid of needles. More information to help parents prepare their children will also be posted on the health unit’s website.
“There’s a few fundamental things we remind parents to do to normalize going to get a vaccine,” said Dr. Summers.
“Talk about your own vaccine experience and about how important it is that we get vaccinated for ourselves and for our parents, and for our grandparents, for our uncles and aunts. Talk about the positives of getting vaccinated. Talk about how they are a superhero and point to the other superheroes who have gotten vaccinated.”
The health unit is also offering a lot of “happy, healthy distractions” for kids, such as squishy stars that children can hold onto in anticipation of the shot.
Being able to vaccinate children is coming at a critical point said Dr. Summers.
“In the Middlesex-London region this entire fall, the highest incident rate has been among those under the age of 11 because they’re unvaccinated and because they are participating in lots of close contact activities,” he said.
Case counts continue to rise in Middlesex-London and across the province. Summers said getting kids vaccinated is “absolutely critical.”
“Kids can still get sick with COVID 19, and they can transmit it to others who can get really sick with COVID 19. And so getting kids under the age of 11 vaccinated as soon as possible is really important for us to get through this pandemic.”
Since students returned to school in September, there have been 267 COVID-19 cases among children aged 11 and under, nearly four times as many cases as those aged 12 to 17 (68 cases), a demographic that is 89.7 per cent fully vaccinated.