As COVID-19 vaccines arrive for kids, parents seeking more information that's not always easy to find

"A lot of parents still have some concerns and still want more information about the vaccines for younger children."

Jacquie Miller 4 minute read November 23, 2021

As COVID-19 vaccines for children aged five to 11 arrive in Ontario this week, health authorities are stepping up efforts to educate parents on why their kids should get the jab.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that “at last 50 per cent of parents” of children in that age group plan to have their children vaccinated as soon as possible, and about 30 per cent want more information.

The origin of that statistic is not clear. The Ministry of Health, when asked the source of the statement, acknowledged receiving the question, but did not immediately provide an answer Monday.

“A lot of parents still have some concerns and still want more information about the vaccines for younger children,” Elliott said at a media conference Monday. “It’s natural that parents would have questions and so we want to provide them with the resources that they need in order to make a decision for their children.”

She mentioned several options for parents to find more information.

The Toronto SickKids hospital is offering appointments for vaccine consultations at SickKids.ca/vaccineconsult, Elliott said.

The hospital has a team of paediatric registered nurses who will answer questions about the vaccines by phone and provide a “safe, judgement-free space to have an open conversation about the COVID-19 vaccine for children and youth,” according to the hospital website.

On Monday night, the SickKids website offered this message when attempting to book an consultation appointment: “Sorry, we couldn’t find any open appointments.”

Elliott also said that if parents wanted to speak to someone, they could also call the provincial vaccine contact centre at 883-943-3900.

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That phone number features a three-minute-long message about vaccine booking, dosing, certificates and other topics. At the end, it offers the option of booking a vaccine, inquiring about obtaining a vaccine certificate or “otherwise, press 2.” Pressing 2 yields another recorded message advising to go to ontario.ca/covidvaccine for more information or to call the “provincial vaccine information line” at at 888-999-6488.

A call to the provincial vaccine information line yields another three-minute-plus recorded message with a wide variety of information, from what to do if you experience a reaction to a vaccine to certificates.

One of the options at the end of that message is to press 4 “to learn more about the different vaccines available.”

It then offers a recorded message about the Pfizer vaccine that has incorrect information.

“The  vaccine is approved for people who are 16 years of age and older,” says the message. “Its safety and effectiveness in people younger than 16 years of age has not yet been established.”

The message was apparently recorded more than six months ago, since the Pfizer vaccine was approved for youth aged 12 to 15 on May 5. Most youth in that age group already have two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

A Pfizer paediatric vaccine has just been approved for kids aged five to 11.

Ontario is receiving about one million pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from the federal government, enough for a first dose for all children from five to 11.

The first shots are expected to be delivered as early as Thursday.

Parents can start booking shots for children aged five to 11 at 8 a.m. Tuesday through the COVID-19 vaccination portal or at pharmacies that offer vaccinations.

To book an appointment, children must be turning five by the end of 2021, according to the province.

Elliott also confirmed that the interval between the two doses children will receive is eight weeks.

Elliott also said parents can consult with their children’s doctor for more information.

Some other resources: The Ontario government has a webpage on vaccines for children and youth that includes information ranging from how to book to side effects and informed consent, and it includes fact sheets in a wide variety of languages.

Ottawa Public Health has a web page on vaccination of children with information including how to book in Ottawa, the risks and benefits, and other frequently asked questions as well as links to other resources.

At the University of Waterloo, Kelly Grindrod, a pharmacist and professor and Dr. Andrea Chittle, a primary care physician and Master of Public Health student, provide a tip sheet on common questions, such as the risks and benefits of the vaccine and an explanation of doses for children.

Sabrina Vohra-Miller, a doctoral student in public health, posts information about vaccines for children on her Twitter feed and answers questions.

SIX reasons for getting kids 5-11 vaccinated as soon as they are eligible! 1- Protect children from Covid-19 illness, hospitalization and death. pic.twitter.com/MmzhcRkwuR — Sabina Vohra-Miller (@SabiVM) October 30, 2021

jmiller@postmedia.com