2,000 local children already booked for first COVID-19 shot

Tara Jeffrey

Five hundred children aged five to 11 have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Sarnia-Lambton and another 1,500 are booked for clinic appointments.

About 9,700 local kids are eligible, said Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health.

“I would say 2,000 bookings is pretty good,” said Dr. Sudit Ranade, noting 60% of local parents plan to vaccinate, according to a recent survey.

“If we get up to that 5,000 to 6,000 mark then we’ll reach what we expected.”

Registration opened Nov. 23 following Health Canada’s approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for the five-to-11 age group.

Clinics at LCCVI and St. Patrick’s high schools filled up quickly, but clinic appointments are available at the Lambton College Event Centre and Rapids Family Health Team.

“We have a special environment set up for kids,” said Ranade. “There’s a little bit more space, we’ve allocated a little bit more time, a few resources to make kids more comfortable.”

Local children who are four years of age but turning five by year-end can’t get a shot, even though Ontario has said anyone born in 2016 can get vaccinated.

Ranade said he made the decision.

“From a medical perspective, there is so much growth and development and change in a person’s body between zero and five. And that change happens so quickly that it’s hard to say, without me seeing the data from the regulator, what is the side effect profile if you’re under five… and is the dosing the right amount, and so forth.”

A parent who contacted the Journal said she was disappointed when the health unit called to cancel her child’s appointment — the child turns five later this month.

“My son is in school so I’d love to get him his shot ASAP, especially with Christmas approaching,” she said. She planned to travel to Chatham-Kent or London-Middlesex for the shot.

“It makes no sense how the rules can be different 45 minutes away,” she said.

Ranade said he understands parents wanting to vaccinate their kids quickly are frustrated, but stressed Health Canada has only authorized it for a specific age group.

“Which means, according to the label…you actually need to be five-years-old in order to receive this vaccine.”

The health unit has no evidence of ‘fake appointments’ made locally following reports that a former People’s Party of Canada (PPC) candidate urged people in the Windsor area to book child appointments and then not show up.

Ontario has expanded booster-dose eligibility to people age 50 and over, but Ranade noted the health unit is still “fully booked” for the 70+ age group.

“It is going to be a challenge for people to book their appointments because we are pretty maxed out on our bookings right now,” he said, adding a booster is “nowhere near as important” as the first two doses.

Although the Omicron variant has not yet appeared in Lambton “it’s only a matter of time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sarnia’s mayor and a city councillor clashed over the use of schools as child vaccination sites during a Nov. 24 Lambton County council meeting.

Coun. Margaret Bird, who has questioned the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in the past, said she opposes school clinics and urged other councillors to write Health Canada. Parents need to know their children are safe at school, she said, adding adverse vaccine effects could result in “injury and death rates increasing with every inoculation.”

Mayor Mike Bradley called for a vote.

“There’s just been a speech for five minutes here on some theories that I think many people would disagree with. So I would suggest the councillor file a notice of motion or put the question forward — does council endorse what she just said?”

Bird refused. “I do not want report of this outside in the public to say I put a motion forward and it was defeated. I don’t want that.”

In a response to Bird’s comments, Lambton Public Health manager Kevin Churchill said school clinics are currently scheduled outside of school hours and administered by public health staff.

In a recent survey, many local parents said they wanted the shots given at schools, he said.

“Holding vaccination clinics outside of school hours allows parents or guardians to accompany their child to their appointment and to ask questions about the vaccine should they have any concerns.”