'It’s very smooth': Alberta begins COVID-19 vaccine rollout for children
Bookings opened Wednesday morning for children aged five to 11 years to get their COVID-19 vaccine in Alberta, with the first doses in the province to be given Friday.
There were a few small hiccups at first but the process for booking an appointment has been smooth according to VaxHuntersAB, a social media account that has tracked vaccination availability throughout the pandemic.
"No troubles with the website this time, we had new and different challenges this time but we’ve got them ironed out now and things are looking pretty smooth," says Sarah Mackey. "Go ahead and book online. It's amazingly easy now that they have some of these glitches sorted out. It’s very quick."
Initially some pharmacies were being included as an option for booking, which shouldn't have been the case, but that error was quickly resolved.
The Pfizer shot was approved for children in the five to 11 age group by Health Canada last Friday, making an additional 391,000 children in the province eligible to be immunized against COVID-19.
The shots won’t be offered in Alberta schools, unlike some other provinces including Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
"This is where the majority of our students are throughout the course of the day, it would make sense to be using schools as an access point for that not only for students but for parents and the community where appropriate," says Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers' Association.
The province's health minister says the decision against including schools was made because similar clinics for kids in junior and high school proved unsuccessful with some 700 of the 1300 schools cancelling the program altogether.
"We’re going to use what it tried and true which is the AHS clinics, which has been successful," says Jason Copping. "We believe with the method we have here with 120 locations that we can get over the next two weeks the next surge done and then we’ll take a look after that."
Children are not required to be vaccinated to go to school in Alberta and that won't change with this latest vaccine rollout.
"Alberta has never had mandatory vaccines for school participation and in fact that would contravene the Education Act, which requires that students be able to access the schools regardless of their health status," said Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday.
Despite the age group now being eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination, children between the ages of five and 11 will not be required to offer vaccine proof while attending public spaces or businesses participating in Alberta's restriction exemption program.
The federal government has no plans to enforce a vaccine mandate for children, including mobility restrictions similar to those currently in place for adults travelling in and out of the country.
Some health care professionals are concerned with the decisions, both provincially and federally, saying young children contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
"If we're allowing the unvaccinated into big events, like hockey games, restaurants, public indoor spaces, we're putting at others at risk, a super spreader event, basically and what that can do is it can increase community transmission," says pediatrician Dr. Tehseen Ladha. "What we really want to do is prevent future waves and, by not applying this program to children, we have a higher risk of having a fifth wave."
Dr. Ladha is also frustrated that immunizations are being rolled out for the five to 11 age group by a child's birthday rather than birth year, which wasn’t done with older age groups.
"I have a lot of patients, I have a lot of friends whose children who will turn five this year or next year but they have to wait until their birthdays."
RESOURCES FOR PATIENTS
While polls have shown roughly half of Alberta parents plan to have their children immunized against COVID-19, the province is rolling out resources for those opposed or still on the fence.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw plans on holding a telephone conference town hall on Tuesday that will be open to the public to ask questions about vaccinations. A link to the town hall will be shared prior to the event,
AHS launched a webpage for anyone with questions about getting their child vaccinated. They also encourage parents to speak with their pediatrician, family physician or call 811 to ensure they are getting accurate information.