COVID-19 vaccine offers hope for children, the “silent sufferers” of pandemic, psychologists say

For Calgary mom Jessy Roos, reserving the COVID-19 vaccine for her seven-year-old daughter has offered a silver lining in what has been a long isolating pandemic for the whole family.

“There were some serious, happy dances in the kitchen,” she said with a laugh.

Roos has made an appointment on Wednesdasy as soon as reservations of COVID-19 vaccines open for Alberta children aged 5 to 11.

The family of six, including three children under the age of five, have stayed close to home during the pandemic to protect vulnerable family members.

Roos’ oldest daughter, who is seven, attends online school and has missed out on many social interactions.

“I am happy that she is protected from this disease that we know so little about. I am happy that it is another layer of protection for the most vulnerable people in our community and our family,” said Roos.

“But I’m happy for her personally because she missed the experience at school. It wasn’t a small sacrifice for her.”

Roos’ daughter is not alone. Alberta kids missed birthday parties and play dates. They were kicked out of school and out and saw other family members including older siblings , be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“They have really been the silent victims of this pandemic and have given up on a lot of things,” said Dr. Nicole Racine, clinical psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Calgary.

“They are aware, they know what COVID is and they can also understand what vaccination does and the important protection it provides. So I hope the children feel a sense of relief.”

Pfizer pediatric vaccines arrived in Calgary on Tuesday. Appointments for 5-11 year olds start on Friday. (Leah Hennel / AHS)

According to Alberta Health, 55,032 appointments for pediatric doses of COVID had been made at 9 a.m. Thursday.

With the expansion of eligibility, 391,000 Alberta children between the ages of 5 and 11 can start getting vaccinated as early as Friday.

There is an eight-week interval between doses – meaning it’s not possible for young children to be fully immunized until the New Year – and public health restrictions remain in place.

Calgary clinical psychologist Dr. Katie Birnie says this is a key step forward for children and signals a move into the next phase of the pandemic for them.

“Children in the younger age groups will enjoy the same protections that have been enjoyed by older teens and adults for some time,” said Birnie, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Calgary.

“There are a lot of kids now who can think of doing things they couldn’t do, whether it be birthdays, sports, or family vacations.… Children carry a large part of the burden of the pandemic. “

The fears of the needle

While getting the COVID-19 vaccine can generate excitement, it will also lead to apprehension for many children. Fears of needles are very common, according to Birnie, who says about 60 percent of children experience this fear.

A key strategy for parents, she says, is to talk about immunization in advance.

Dr. Nicole Racine is a clinical psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Calgary. She says children have been the “silent victims” of the pandemic. (Nicole Racine)

“Talk about why you’re getting it, how it’s going to make a difference in your family. “

Birnie says it’s also important to discuss coping strategies with children.

“And when you get there, bring some distractions with you. They can use your smartphone to watch a movie, listen to music, or tell you about something fun online. They can also do that during the needle it- even. They can sit in your lap. You can hug them a bit. It helps them feel still and comfortable. “

She also recommends a numbing cream to apply 30 to 60 minutes in advance, which can be purchased over the counter at drugstores.

And, according to Birnie, don’t forget to plan a reward for the sequel.

“Celebrate! Plan this reward. Do something fun. Talk about what went well,” she said. “These things can help make sure things go better for the second dose.”

Despite recommendations from public health officials, not all parents plan to have their children vaccinated.

Preliminary research from the University of Alberta indicates that about 55 percent of parents of children ages five to 11 plan to have their children immunized, and 25 percent are undecided.

Racine says that while the science is clear about the vaccine’s effectiveness for children and the importance of its role in fighting the pandemic, some children may have questions if all of their friends are not vaccinated.

“Maybe that’s something we need to talk about – that different families are going to make different decisions… and just provide explanations to your kids for the decisions you make.”

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