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'Protect the little ones:' Saskatchewan begins vaccinating young kids against COVID

REGINA — Randall Robins sighed with relief after her three-year-old daughter received her first COVID-19 shot.
Khloe Robins, 3, gets a COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in the Victoria Square Mall in Regina on Friday, July 22, 2022. It's the first day that children six-months to five-years-old can get a COVID-19 vaccination. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

REGINA — Randall Robins sighed with relief after her three-year-old daughter received her first COVID-19 shot.

"It was good," Khloe Robinssaid to her mom before looking at stickers a nurse had just given her: a Scooby-Doo on her arm, a gold star on her shirt and a "well done" sticker over her heart.

The biggest one was on her left arm, just below a bandage where the needle went in: "I got my COVID-19 vaccine!"

"We've been waiting for this for a long time, so it feels good to give her some protection finally," her mother said Friday.

"We'll feel more comfortable trying to live a normal life again now that she's vaccinated. We can just relax a little bit."

Khloe was one of the first in Saskatchewan to receive Moderna's Spikevax vaccine for children ages six months to five years. The doses are one-quarter the size of those approved for adults.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it has received 13,000 doses. As of Friday morning, 1,036 appointments for those shots were booked.

Last week, Health Canada authorized the use of Spikevax for young children, making it the first authorized vaccine for that age group.

Saskatchewan is offering the vaccine for young children through walk-in clinics, like the one Robins attended in Regina, and through booked appointments.

"There's been a significant number of our very youngest population in the province that have been unable to access vaccines until now," Julie Kryzanowski, Saskatchewan's deputy chief medical health officer, said earlier this week.

"Fortunately, the majority of children with COVID-19 have milder or asymptomatic disease, but some children — even those previously healthy — can get severe disease and require hospitalizations."

While serious illness among children is rare, the The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has said the number of children hospitalized for COVID-19 shot up dramatically as the Omicron variant spread rampantly last winter.

The average monthly rate of young children hospitalized because of COVID-19 was 15.9 per 100,000 children under five in the first three months of 2022, up from 1.4 per 100,000 in the first two years of the pandemic.

Other provinces have also announced their rollout plans for the shots for young kids, with many to start next week. Parents in Manitoba can begin booking appointments Monday and in Ontario they start on Thursday.

Megan Robins-Stewart, a sister-in-law of Randall Robins, attended the same Regina clinic Friday.

She said for the entire pandemic she's been worried about her daughter Isabella, who was born just months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic two years ago.

"It's been a little bit terrifying ... because I do run a daycare as well, so we have to be super diligent with being safe with COVID," Robins-Stewart said.

Isabella received her first dose, and her mother said they plan to be back in eight weeks to complete her vaccine series.

"She's a tough cookie," Robins-Stewart said of her daughter.

She said her entire family has now had a COVID-19 vaccine, which gives her peace of mind. It has eased her concerns around a planned family vacation to British Columbia and being around relatives who are immunocompromised.

"Everyone needs to do their part in society to get protected, and protect the little ones that don't have a voice," Robins-Stewart said, encouraging hesitant parents to speak to health-care professionals about the vaccine for kids.

"Get your research from the right people. Don't go to Google."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2022.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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