Parents will be able to take their children, ages five to 11, to the Foothills Centennial Centre to get the jab after appointments opened for booking Wednesday morning (Nov. 24).
Premier Jason Kenney announced Nov. 23 that young Albertans would be able to be immunized against COVID-19 as soon as Nov. 26, following Health Canada's Nov. 19 approval of the Pfizer vaccine.
“This is exciting news for hundreds of thousands of families across the province who have eagerly been waiting for vaccine protection for their younger children,” said Kenney, adding 391,000 kids are now eligible for the immunization, bringing the province’s total eligibility to 94 per cent.
“It’s reassuring to know that the Pfizer vaccine went through a rigorous review and has been deemed safe and effective for young children,” Health Minister Jason Copping said.
As of Nov. 22, 83.3 per cent of Albertans 12 and older are fully vaccinated and 88.4 per cent have received one dose.
Two doses of vaccine will be required eight weeks apart for a child to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19. AHS recommends a span of 14 days between receiving a vaccine, flu or other regular childhood immunizations.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said trials showed the vaccine to be 90.7 effective and noted no serious side-effects were observed.
The immune response for those who receive the pediatric vaccine is similar to the response observed in 16 to 25 year olds, she added.
Despite Copping’s remarks that about 50 per cent of willing parents will be able to have their child vaccinated within two weeks of the rollout, appointments in Okotoks are minimal.
Until the end of December, only eight days are shown as available for booking on the Alberta Health Services website.
In response, AHS provided a statement that read, “The dates available for booking at the AHS clinic will run over a period of eight days for 12 hours each day, up until Dec. 21. The number of days these clinics will operate was determined by the number of eligible children who live in the Okotoks area, anticipated demand and the available space AHS has to offer these clinics.”
If the demand is higher than the current supply of appointments available for Okotoks, AHS will address that need and add further immunization appointments.”
The province has decided not to commit to a school rollout, citing the scale of the operation.
Copping said vaccine clinics were run in junior high and high schools in the province with little success and added there are concerns of waste if doses allotted to schools are not used.
Alberta’s portion of vaccines are being distributed to 120 AHS facilities and four pharmacies, a method that Copping called “tried and true.”
Young Albertans will not be included in the province’s Restriction Exemption Program, Kenney said. This program requires patrons to provide proof of full vaccination with a QR code or a negative test result to enter a non-essential business.
“We want parents to take the time they need to assess their situation, review the data and make the best choice for their kids and their family,” he said.
This decision, he said, was largely based on the additional impact to children’s mental health as a result of the pandemic.
“Ultimately, we felt that it would be unfair to younger children to exclude them and to further stigmatize them, especially given their low risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19,” Kenney said.
Copping reiterated children have “a very low” chance of severe outcomes from the illness.
Dr. Hinshaw announced Tuesday (Nov. 23) the death of a child under two where COVID-19 was deemed to be a contributing factor, along with other medical conditions.
“I want to assure Albertans that before we publicly report any COVID deaths in someone under the age of 18, we complete a thorough review process,” she said.
“These reviews are also done in cases where there is uncertainty in cause of death for those of any age, so the overall COVID number we’re reporting are as accurate as possible.”
She said while most infected children only have mild symptoms, in the past 120 days, 13.4 per cent of all cases in the province were in children ages five to 11 and during that time 26 were treated in hospital and three were treated in intensive care.
Immunization appointments can be booked online at bookvaccine.alberta.ca or by calling 811.
On Nov. 30, Dr. Hinshaw will be hosting a telephone town hall to provide additional information and answer questions about COVID-19 vaccinations for children. For more information, or to register, click here.