Health officials brought in the dogs this week to help children at COVID-19 immunization clinics in 100 Mile House.
Three therapy dogs, including Jasper and his handler Heidi Hapalo, were on-site Tuesday and Wednesday to provide comfort to children aged five to 11 as they got their vaccines.
“They thought it might be a good idea for kids to have something to pet or hold onto and so far it’s worked,” Hapalo said, adding Jasper, 10, is well known around Mill Site Lodge and is a quiet calming presence for all ages. “They have all really liked him. Jasper is very gentle and happy just to be petted.”
Public health nurse Krystal Choy said she and the other nurses wanted to make the immunization experience relaxing for children. The nurses also decorated the clinic with Christmas decorations and dressed up like reindeer and Santa’s elves.
“This is our first COVID clinic for kids in the five to 11 age group. We decided to make it a bit festive to cheer up the little guys because (getting a needle) can be a bit tough for them,” Choy said.
Hudson McKinnon, 10, and his brother Bretton, 9, said they were nervous at first but the shot only “stung for five seconds.”
READ MORE: Therapy dogs at vaccination clinic
“I was like, yeah, it didn’t really hurt,” Bretton said.
Their mother Heather said she is relieved their whole family is vaccinated and hopes they can go on a family trip next spring.
Children at the clinic received the pediatric Pfizer vaccine, a smaller dose of the same vaccine given to millions of adults around the world, said Interior Health’s interim chief medical health officer Sue Pollock. She noted vaccine trials conducted before the rollout found no severe reactions among children, and only mild side effects such as sore arms and fevers.
“Data from studies of children aged five to 11 has shown that the vaccine is 91 per cent effective against preventing COVID-19 infections, and even better for preventing severe illness and hospitalization,” Pollock said. “This level of immunity is remarkable. Still, we know that the body takes time to build its immune response and that full immunity is achieved about seven days after the second dose.”
While COVID-19 cases among children tend to be mild to moderate, Pollock said there is always the risk of children becoming severely ill or developing long-term health complications. Since Sept. 1, she said children aged five to 11 have accounted for 16 per cent, or close to 2,000 of the COVID-19 cases in the Interior region. This is the highest rate of infection of all age groups.
Between Nov. 28 and Dec. 4, there were 79 COVID-19 positive cases in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Local Health Area, according to Interior Health. Of those cases, 73.4 per cent were unimmunized or under-immunized (one-dose). The health authority noted those who are under-immunized only represent 26 per cent of the overall population.
Vaccination clinics take place on Wednesdays and Thursdays for those needing a vaccination or booster shot. To schedule an appointment, visit www.getvaccinated.gov.bc.ca.