17 Jan 2022

Covid-19 paediatric vaccine: roll-out begins for children aged 5-11

7:50 am on 17 January 2022

Doctors and nurses are stocked up, schooled up and bracing for an influx now that close to half a million tamariki can get a special paediatric dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

A 7 year-old child holds a sticker she received after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Child Health Associates office in Novi, Michigan on November 3, 2021.

Across the country 120,000 of the paediatric vaccines are ready to go at 500 sites. Photo: AFP / Jeff Kowalsky

From today, parents and caregivers can book their five to 11-years-olds for a free vaccine or take them to a walk-up-appointment.

Aucklander Clare Lang and her eight-year-old and 10-year-old daughters are among those planning to be at a clinic at the first possible chance.

"Obviously here in Auckland Covid's been a real threat and the girls have missed a lot of school. We've thought about it as something we really want to get done," she said.

If the Mission Bay Doctors is anything to go by, many local parents feel the same way.

GP Vicki Mount, who is one of 380 vaccinating doctors and pharmacists across Tāmaki Makaurau, explained that interest in the children's vaccine had started "a long time ago

"We've had our patients asking, for a couple of months now, when can they get their children vaccinated.

"Then with the announcement before Christmas that the date of January 17th was coming, we saw huge demand - people calling the clinic wondering if they could book," she said.

"We know that our patients are really keen to protect their children."

Special paediatric doses of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines arrived at the Mission Bay Doctors last week and have been placed in the clinic's fridges ready to be administered.

They are a third of the dose of the adult vaccine, and the Ministry of Health recommends children get two at an eight-week interval - the optimum time to reduce any side-effects.

Across the country 120,000 of the vaccines are ready to go at 500 sites.

The Ministry of Health expected that number to grow in coming weeks, and said it would be accompanied by a programme of Māori-designed initiatives and Pacific-led initiatives aimed at making vaccination available for all whānau.

Dr Mount said her clinic had spent a lot of time preparing for the children's vaccine rollout, despite already being well-practised in administering first and second adults' doses and boosters.

"Every person who wants to vaccinate children needs to complete a special course which goes through the evidence and the safety, how to draw up the vaccine and all of the requirements around the temperature and how long it's stable for - and safe practice, because of course we really need to make sure that vaccinating adults and children, we keep them really safe," she said.

Parents can make bookings for their tamariki from today on the Book My Vaccine website, and they need to come along to the appointment.

Some health providers are not ready to start vaccinating children yet, having just resumed after the summer break.

However, other clinics including a new drive-through site at the Eventfinda Stadium in Wairau Valley on Auckland's North Shore, are rolling out the welcome mat today for parents and children without appointments.

Northern Region Health Co-ordination Centre's clinical director Dr Anthony Jordan was confident staff would be able to keep up with demand.

"We have so much capacity now - different to where we were say, six, nine months ago when we were turning on a lot of the sites. So we have the capability to do 30,000 vaccinations a day," he said.

'Take your time'

Dr Jin Russell expected some people would be on the fence about the children's vaccine.

She's a developmental paediatrician, and a mother to two children who she said will be getting immunised.

Dr Russell said people could be reassured any serious side-effects are incredibly rare.

"I think it's okay to take your time and make sure you've had all your questions answered. It's important that you have someone that you trust you can speak to about this who can give you good information," she said.

"I do encourage parents to prepare to have their children vaccinated. We are expecting that some time soon, the Omicron variant is going to burst into New Zealand and that has potential to cause a lot of infections in children."

That data has recently been examined in an international study, which has challenged the claim Covid-19 is just a mild infection for tamariki and highlighted the benefits of vaccination.

Children have made up 20 percent of the infections in New Zealand's Delta outbreak, according to numbers from the Ministry of Health, and seven percent of those who required hospital treatment.

There is no obligation for children to get a vaccine - jab or no jab, they'll be able to attend school when it resumes in two weeks' time.

However, Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Stephen Lethbridge warned schools will want to get a sense of uptake among pupils.

"I think what we'll end up doing is schools will keep a very accurate vaccination register. So we'll be asking questions of our whānau and family [who] do have the right not to disclose that information," he said.

Dr Russell encouraged people to talk to their children and answer any questions they have about the vaccine.

She said a sore arm and a bit of tiredness is to be expected, and children should know they're being brave to protect themselves and their peers.

Read RNZ's guide on the children's vaccine - and advice for talking to children - here:

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