COVID-19 vaccines for kids are here. How many parents will use them?

OPINION: This time, the rollout seems to be going pretty smoothly, and thousands have signed up. Now it’s a question of how long it will take for everyone else to get in line
By Matt Gurney - Published on Nov 23, 2021
The Ontario vaccination portal is now up and running for children. (Side Show Stock/iStock)



Life is full of little quirks of timing, good and bad. One does not often get the opportunity in the news media to comment on things that are going well. We are very much in the business of bad news, which, I assure you, is as exhausting to produce as it can be to consume. But I do like to point out when things go well, if only to partially even out all the time I spend talking about things going badly.

I was particularly amused this morning to be given opportunities to do both at the same time.

We will start with the bad news, simply because it is trivial and can be gotten out of the way quickly: after months of delay, we have finally received our daughter’s new health card, months after the old one expired. The delay was not on our end. We filled out the necessary forms within the appropriate time window. We then settled down into this weird period of simply waiting for the new card to arrive. We’ve heard from others in our area of similar problems with drivers’ licences and health cards. It put us in a weird position where, for a couple of months, we were basically getting by on the good graces of health-care-system providers who did not sweat the fact that my firstborn’s OHIP card was expired. I hadn’t really expected anything else and was confident that in a real emergency, she’d get the care she needed, and no one would worry too much about the paperwork.

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But it was annoying. I know things are weird and disrupted out there right now, but a health card is a pretty basic thing to get right.

All right, all right: curmudgeon mode off. It arrived in the mail this morning, at long last, which is obviously great. Better late than never. And to balance out the griping, I feel obliged to note that Tuesday’s big news is good news. The Ontario vaccination portal is up and running for children, and we got ours booked today without any difficulty. It is too soon to say that all will continue to go smoothly, and it’s also way too early in the day to provide any meaningful numbers on sign-ups thus far. Almost 70,000 kids were signed up by 10 o’clock Tuesday morning, according to the news, which is obviously great. We shall see how high that number goes in the days to come.

All this to say, the experience for tens of thousands of families has been … good. Although it seems like a long time ago, it really was only in the spring of this same calendar year that we adults were scrambling to get our vaccine shots arranged and delivered. It was a frantic period, though the memory seems to be fading fast (which is probably a blessing). Six months ago, we were lined up around buildings for even a chance at a dose. Today, Ontario is not giving many shots anymore, even with boosters becoming available. For adults, at any rate, our vaccination campaign seems set to end not with a bang but with a whimper — and a very small bandage. 

But if you search your memories of only a few months ago, you’ll recall what I mean. It was a chaotic, stressful process. To have the booking for children get off to such a smooth start is, if nothing else, a nice change of pace.

There are obvious differences, of course. One would hope that the province has simply gotten better at this as time has gone on, but there are far fewer children than adults, and Ontario is confident it will have all the supply it needs in short order. Last time, with the grownups, a big part of the scramble came from the uncertainties around supply. Greater experience among the staff, the stress testing of the IT infrastructure, a smaller population group, and assured vaccine delivery are obviously all good things that came together to make this a smooth start to what will hopefully be one of our final phases of this pandemic.

I am genuinely curious about how many children will ultimately get the jab. I hope it is lots, but I have a lot more sympathy for nervous parents hesitating to get their children vaccinated than I do for those adults still refusing their own. Some of it is the rational understanding that COVID-19 presents a relatively minor threat to children, in most cases. But I’m sympathetic mostly because, as a parent myself, I understand how hard it can be to hand them over for even a routine medical procedure. If my doctor told me he wanted to take my tonsils out, I’d shrug and look forward to the Jello. If a doctor told me one of my kids needed their tonsils out, I’d sweat blood. When my son broke his collarbone, I felt terrible for days. I’ve gone days without treatment for a broken bone, because of how busy I was. As humans, we’re hardwired to fear for our children in ways we don’t always fear for ourselves. I get the anxiety.

All I can say is that, for us, the benefits outweigh the risks, and it’s not even close. And it’s not just the direct health benefits. I know a family that was recently exposed to a person who was later confirmed to have COVID-19. The parents, being vaccinated, were told to self-monitor for symptoms but otherwise continue on with their lives. The poor kid, though, was pulled out of all activities and school for a 10-day isolation, because unvaccinated COVID-19 close contacts are treated differently than vaccinated ones. Everybody would’ve been happier avoiding that disruption.

My gut feeling is that uptake will be strong for children but probably not as strong as many have been hoping. I also think we will see more stragglers coming in later, as people take a wait-and-see approach. As the months go on and our children fail to grow tails or spontaneously combust, other parents will probably be reassured enough to get theirs the jab. In this way, we will slowly inch our way back to normal. The process will not be smooth, and I don’t doubt there will be setbacks and reversals along the way. But, hey, at least we got this phase off to a good start. We couldn’t always take even that for granted.

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