Your kid is eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Manitoba. Now what?

Thousands more kids in Manitoba are now eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, with the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children age five to 11 Friday morning. 

But parents of five- to 11-year-olds might still have some questions about when the shots will be available, where their children will be able to get them and why they need to get immunized in the first place.

Here’s a look at what we know so far about how Manitoba’s vaccine rollout will work for some of its youngest residents — and why health officials say it’s important to make sure your child gets immunized, even if you don’t think they’re at high risk of getting seriously ill.

What’s the status of vaccine approval for younger kids?

Health Canada gave its stamp of approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children age five to 11 Friday morning. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is recommending the two doses required for full immunization be given at least eight weeks apart.

A source told CBC News earlier in the week the government is currently firming up delivery timelines and that Canada can expect pediatric doses to arrive in the country in a matter of “days, not weeks.”

When will it be available to kids in Manitoba?

Once Manitoba gets its shipments of vaccine doses, it will take about a week to get them out to the vaccine clinics, pharmacies and other sites where they’ll be administered, provincial officials said.

As with the province’s previous vaccination rollout for those age 12-17, Manitoba will open eligibility for the shots to all kids in the five to 11 range at the same time.

That’s because the province has enough supplies like syringes and expects to get enough doses to vaccinate everyone who wants it.

The timeline means kids from five to 11 could start getting their shots before the end of the month.

Is it the same as the vaccine for adults and older kids?

The vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds has the same formula and works the same way as the one for people 12 and up, and kids will still need two doses to be considered fully vaccinated. 

But the dose they’ll get is only one-third the size of the regular one — 10 micrograms instead of 30. 

That’s a common practice in vaccines for younger children, said Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force.

The vials for the kid-size vaccine will also have a different label and a different colour of cap than the adult version — orange instead of purple — so immunizers can easily tell the difference between them, Pfizer says.

A vial of the new children’s dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sits in the foreground as children play in a hospital room waiting to get their shots. The vials of the kid-size vaccines will have orange lids instead of the purple ones on the regular vaccines. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

The vaccination process for kids in Manitoba might look a little different, too.

Officials say immunizers are getting extra training on how to treat children coming for their shots — and the province has made new kid-friendly stickers to give out after.

Where can my kid get the vaccine?

For the most part, your kid will be able to go anywhere you could go to get a vaccine in Manitoba before.

That means pediatric doses will go to First Nations communities, Manitoba’s five urban Indigenous clinics and all the province’s regional vaccine clinics — places that previously operated as supersites.

Immunization settings like hospitals will also get doses, as will doctors’ offices and pharmacies that request the vaccines.

A nurse wearing bunny ears gives a six-year-old patient their first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Kids in Manitoba will have plenty of options for where to get their immunizations. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

And the province will once again roll out vaccines for kids in schools, with clinics scheduled both during school hours and later in the evening. Those after-school clinics will also be open to any community members, which means your whole family can go together.

The province says it also plans to once again offer pop-up community clinics and walk-in vaccinations at some locations. 

You’ll still be able to use Manitoba’s online vaccine finder map to figure out the closest place to get your kids immunized.

How can I make an appointment?

Once doses for kids reach Manitoba, you’ll be able to make an appointment for the shot. That process will also be the same as before.

For regional and urban Indigenous vaccine clinics, people can book online or by phone at 1-844-626-8222.

For other sites, like pharmacies and doctors’ offices, you can call directly to book a slot.

Is the vaccine safe for kids?

The approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for kids age five to 11 comes after a “rigorous” review of Pfizer’s trial data by Health Canada, Reimer said.

“No steps are skipped in this process,” she said at a Wednesday news conference.

“What does happen is that Health Canada is reviewing the data in real time, instead of waiting for all of the findings to be submitted at the end. And this helps their review to occur a lot faster when the final submission occurs.”

That trial was also beefed up this summer, after U.S. regulators asked the vaccine maker to expand the number of people included. That request was to make sure the trial would detect any potential — but rare — side-effects, like myocarditis or pericarditis, which involve swelling in or around the heart.

WATCH | Dr. Joss Reimer answers common questions about kids and vaccines:

Dr. Joss Reimer answers parents’ questions about COVID-19 vaccines for kids

Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force, answers some of the most common questions parents have about COVID-19 vaccines for their kids. 1:54

So far, no cases of those conditions have come up in young kids involved in the vaccine trial.

“This might be due to the fact that this vaccine is a lower dose, or perhaps it’s due to something like different hormone levels that occur in younger children,” Reimer said.

“But regardless of the reason, we will be watching very carefully and I will update Manitobans if we see cases in this age group.”

Why do kids need to get vaccinated?

In Manitoba, COVID-19 is now spreading most rapidly among the province’s youngest age groups.

People under 18 make up almost one-third of new cases, while those age five to 11 make up about 16 per cent, Chief Provincial Public Health Office Dr. Brent Roussin told host Marcy Markusa in an interview with CBC’s Information Radio Thursday.

There are about 125,000 kids age five to 11 in Manitoba, meaning they now make up the province’s largest unvaccinated cohort.

“Vaccination of that age group can’t come soon enough,” Roussin said. “That’s going to be just another tool we have in this pandemic.”

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, says kids ages five to 11 now make up about 16 per cent of the province’s new COVID-19 cases. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

While most kids who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms at most, some have ended up in the hospital, Reimer said.

Vaccination can help prevent that.

Pfizer said the clinical trial for its kid-size shot showed it induced a robust immune response in young kids. U.S. health regulators later agreed, saying the vaccine was safe and appeared highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections.

Even if your child isn’t at a high risk of getting really sick, getting them vaccinated will still lower the chance they’ll catch, and spread, COVID-19 to someone else.

WATCH | Dr. Joss Reimer addresses common concerns about vaccines:

Dr. Joss Reimer busts myths around COVID-19 vaccines for kids

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Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force, addresses some of the most common concerns parents have about vaccinating their kids against COVID-19. 1:53

Lowering the spread of the illness in the community will help ensure more shutdowns aren’t needed — and speed up a return to normal.

“Vaccines are the way out of this pandemic,” Premier Heather Stefanson said Wednesday.

“They are how we keep our schools, our businesses and places of worship open. And most importantly, they help keep our hospitals and communities safe.”

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