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Child-sized COVID-19 vaccine doses are expected to be available in Manitoba next month, the province said Wednesday, outlining its rollout plans to offer protection to approximately 125,000 kids.
Pending Health Canada's approval of Pfizer-BioNTech's two-dose pediatric regimen ― which could come by the end of this week, the Toronto Star reported ― children between the ages of 5 and 11 could get their first shots by the middle of December, vaccine task force medical lead Dr. Joss Reimer told a news conference.
Pediatric vaccine FAQ with Dr. Joss Reimer
What Reimer has to say about child COVID-19 vaccinations
Q: What if my child is 11 and turning 12 early in the new year?
“What we are telling parents is that it’s great to get your kids protected as soon as possible,” Reimer said. “So if your child is turning 12 in January or February, go ahead and get the pediatric dose for them as soon as you can.”
“The second dose is really important to boost that protection and provide them with an even higher level, but it’s better to get the protection sooner than to wait for a higher dose.”
Reimer said some kids may get one pediatric dose and one full-size dose, depending on when their birthday occurs.
Q: What if my child had COVID-19?
Reimer said children who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have recovered do not have to wait to get the vaccine once it is approved.
“Right now the only requirement would be that any individual, child or adult, has recovered from their illness,” she said.
Q: What about proof of vaccination?
Once a child is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 they will be able to request and receive proof of their immunization, including the QR codes issued by the Manitoba government.
However, at this time there are no plans to change public-health orders to require proof of vaccination for kids age five to 11.
Manitoba public health may look at introducing vaccination requirements in the future for younger kids, Reimer noted.
"Certainly if Health Canada approves things sooner, we will be ready to go sooner as well, and look forward to having that vaccine available as soon as we have it in the province," Reimer said. "And it would be wonderful if that was in November."
Doses will be available through provincial and regional clinics, building off of the vaccine campaign for adults and youths, but there will be a heavy reliance on physicians' offices and pharmacies in Winnipeg.
There are currently 480 medical clinics and pharmacies signed up to deliver COVID-19 vaccines and each location is responsible for ordering doses from the province based on demand from their clients.
Keir Johnson, a spokesman for Doctors Manitoba, said there has been good collaboration between the province and local physicians in planning the pediatric rollout and hundreds of family doctors are on standby to deliver doses.
"We know many parents will have questions about this vaccine, and physicians are ready to provide you with the facts to make a fully informed decision about vaccination," Johnson said.
"Many patients want to access these new vaccines in their doctor's office, a convenient place they know, with a medical professional they trust."
Public opinion research commissioned by the province indicated about 75 per cent of all Manitoba parents intend to have their young children vaccinated.
About 80 per cent of respondents said getting vaccinated by their primary health-care provider is their preferred option, but parents and caregivers are not opposed to going to the first available location.
Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced regulatory changes Wednesday that will allow pharmacists to administer shots to kids as young as five years old. Previously, they couldn't immunize children under age seven.
"We appreciate the action on this request," said Ashley Hart, president of Pharmacists Manitoba. "We believe that this policy change will help avoid the mass confusion and frustration which we had anticipated if there were an age discrepancy between the age of eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, and the age which pharmacists are permitted to vaccinate."
Appointments aren't available yet, but when they are, they'll be booked through the existing vaccine hotline or online at protectmb.ca for provincial and regional clinics and directly with medical clinics and pharmacies.
Premier Heather Stefanson encouraged parents and caregivers to get children immunized as soon as they can.
"We all want our children to be able to attend school and participate in their normal social activities," Stefanson said. "Achieving high vaccination rates in both adults and children will be key in controlling spread of the virus."
School-based clinics will also form a significant part of the province’s strategy to get doses to youngsters, particularly for families that face barriers to immunization related to transportation, child care or access to health services.
Depending on when vaccines become available, school-based clinics are expected to run before and after the winter break.
Regional health authorities will set the clinics' schedules based on what’s happening within a specific school, community need and available resources, with some clinics held in school after class is dismissed, the task force said.
More than 6,000 Manitoba children between the ages of 5 and 11 have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began; 27 were admitted to hospital and seven required intensive care.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.