Plane carrying doses of COVID-19 vaccines for kids touches down in Canada

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

Published Sunday, November 21, 2021 3:22 PM EST

Last updated on Sunday, November 21, 2021 6:28 PM EST

HAMILTON – The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for children made landfall in Canada on Sunday, paving the way for provinces and territories to prepare in earnest for the next phase of the national mass immunization campaign.

A UPS plane carrying thousands of pediatric doses landed in the rain at an airport in Hamilton, with federal procurement secretary Filomena Tassi on hand to mark its arrival.

Tassi clapped and cheered as workers unloaded huge gray containers from the top deck of the plane.

The Sunday delivery is the first in an expedited shipment of vaccines targeting children ages five to 11.

Health Canada announced Friday that it had approved a modified version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in that demographic, and Ottawa immediately promised that there would be some shots on Canadian soil 48 hours later.

Tassi said Friday that Canada would have 2.9 million doses on its hands by the end of the week, enough to offer every child in the newly approved age bracket a first dose.

Health Canada’s approval came after a month-long review of safety and efficacy data from the pharmaceutical giants.

The regulator says the vaccine, which is given at a smaller dose than the adult version and has a slightly different formula, was 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in children and caused no identified serious side effects.

Counties welcomed both the vaccine’s approval and its imminent arrival, but largely postponed announcing plans to get shots in the arms of children until supplies arrived.

New Brunswick released a statement on Sunday saying it will expand vaccine eligibility to children ages five to 11 once the pediatric doses are received, but the province has not released any information on when that is expected.

Many Ontario public health departments had not updated their rollout plans as of Sunday afternoon, with regions such as Peel, Windsor-Essex and Waterloo saying Friday appointments were expected to open early this week.

The Durham region said Friday it was anticipating opening booking sites on Monday, while Toronto Public Health issued a statement Friday saying it was preparing to open 20,000 slots in city-run immunization clinics between Nov. 25 and Dec. 5.

Manitoba was one of the few jurisdictions to release booking information for Sunday. The province announced on Friday that parents and caregivers can make appointments by phone or online about the first dose for eligible children from 6 a.m. Monday.

Sean Sedlacek, a father in Winnipeg, said he will try to arrange an appointment for his five-year-old son as soon as places become available.

Sedlacek said he and his wife felt “an incredible sense of relief” on Friday when news broke that Health Canada had approved Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine.

Sedlacek and his wife made arrangements earlier this year to get vaccinated as soon as they were eligible, and said they wanted to do the same for their only child.

“We just want to protect him as best we can,” he said. “I know the risks for younger children are a lot lower, but you can’t control what other people do. I just want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to protect our family.”

In British Columbia, parents have already been able to pre-register their child for an appointment online or by phone. The county said more than 75,000 children registered on Friday, putting them on a list to be contacted for an appointment when the booking opens.

Alberta announced a similar pre-registration program, adding that the province should begin administering injections by the end of this week, provided doses arrive as expected.

Saskatchewan will release details on Monday about its plans to vaccinate its approximately 115,000 children, ages five to 11. Health and education officials are working to set up clinics in schools, and Education Secretary Dustin Duncan said last week the government is also working on a plan to ensure anti-vaccination protesters do not appear in schools as they do in hospitals.

Quebec’s health minister, Christian Dube, said Friday the province’s immunization plan would be unveiled this week, adding that he hoped 700,000 children in the approved age range would be vaccinated with their first dose by Christmas.

Some public health units are setting up vaccine clinics in schools and expanding existing mass vaccination sites. Pharmacies and primary care practices are expected to also offer shots in some jurisdictions.

Toronto has said hundreds of schools in Ontario’s most populous city will host clinics, but no vaccines will be distributed during class.

Children should not be vaccinated without parental consent.

Canada expects an accelerated delivery of 2.9 million pediatric doses, enough for a first shot for any child aged five to 11 years.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children on October 29, and the United States has already immunized more than two million children.

dr. Samira Jeimy, an allergist and immunologist at Western University in London, Ontario, said it can be frustrating for eager parents to hear they have to wait to make vaccine appointments for their children.

“I don’t blame parents who have been waiting on the edge of their seats – like me,” she said in an interview on Saturday. “I understand it from the point of view of trying to keep things organized, but I feel like we really should have been ready to mobilize things.”

– With files from Melissa Couto Zuber in Toronto and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 21, 2021.

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