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How Quebec vaccination centres are putting kids first

Puppies, princesses and superheroes have been dispatched to Quebec’s vaccination centres to help the province’s youngest citizens get vaccinated.

Children age five to 11 are now eligible to get vaccinated in the province, and officials have been busy making preparations to put youngsters — and their parents — at ease.

Jean Nicolas Aubé, a spokesperson for the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montreal, said they worked to make sites like the Palais des congrès more kid-friendly.

“What’s important, for us, is to offer a vaccination site that’s calm. We didn’t want to upset the kids,” he explained.

Marie-Ève Brunelle, who’s in charge of COVID-19 vaccinations and screening for the CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, said all the professionals working at the sites want children to feel comfortable in the process.

“We want to offer quality care and a positive experience, because this vaccination experience will stay with them all their lives,” she said.

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Here are some of the things families can expect when they take their children to be vaccinated.

Smaller spaces, updated decor

Dividing walls have been brought in to make the large, open spaces quieter and more private for families.

While adults had to move from station to station to complete the vaccination process, Brunelle said families stay put in one spot, where every step of the process is handled. Siblings will also get vaccinated together. 

Dividers have been brought in to create smaller, private spaces for families at vaccination centres. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Balloons, posters, and wall stickers now decorate many of the centres, to give the area a more festive and welcoming atmosphere. 

In Quebec City, some vaccination centres even have a jungle theme, complete with palm trees and giant butterflies. 

A giant butterfly swoops above in a vaccination centre in Quebec City. (Radio-Canada)

Characters from the Super Mario video game franchise welcome children to a vaccination site in Montreal. (CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’Île-de-Montréal)

Games and activities available

Brunelle said there are also games and activities along the process, like hunt-and-seek games where children have to find something hidden in a picture. The children can play the game while they get their shot as a distraction.

Ten-year-old Marion Lavallée plays a hunt-and-seek activity while receiving her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Radio-Canada)

The Quebec government has also created a colouring sheet for the kids to complete while they wait the obligatory 15 minutes after getting their dose.

In addition, Brunelle said there are stickers and temporary tattoos to congratulate kids once they’re finished. 

Stuffed animals are also welcomed, to help their humans feel at ease.

Jeanne Lavallée (centre), Marion Lavallée (right) and their mom Melanie Dyke show off their matching band-aids. Jeanne brought two elephants with her for emotional support. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

Puppy love with therapy animals

Therapy animals will also be going station to station at some vaccination sites, to help children who may be feeling particularly anxious.

Bémole the dog was on duty Wednesday at the Montreal convention centre, accepting pets before, after and even during the injections.

Brunelle said there may not always be a therapy animal on site, but they will have at least one every day, with a focus on the evenings, when kids may be coming after a long day at school.

Therapy dog Bémole sits in a child’s lap as he’s vaccinated at the Palais des congrès. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

Puppies aren’t the only ones there to comfort kids. The CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’Île-de-Montréal said princesses and superheroes will also be visiting their sites to chat with the kids.

The moment of truth

Nurse Carole Richer vaccinated the first kids at the convention centre on Wednesday. She said it’s important for parents to prepare their children and explain what’s going to happen when they get there.

Once the child is at her station, she makes sure to keep a relaxed atmosphere and speak directly to the child.

Carole Richer said she makes sure to explain every step of the process to the child before they receive their vaccine. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

“I explain every step to make sure he knows what’s coming. If he has questions, or if he’s afraid, I ask him to talk to me about it before,” she explained.

She said most of the children are well prepared and eager to get vaccinated.

“Children, they’re not that afraid, most of them. They do very well, because they understand [why it’s important].”

Seven-year-old Rosa Lymberiou said she was “a little scared” to get the vaccine, but she’s excited to go to Florida to visit her grandmother. 

Seven-year-old Rosa Lymberiou (left) and her sister, five-year-old Olivia, both got their first vaccines on Wednesday. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

She said two kids in her class caught COVID-19, and when she was asked what she’d tell her friends, she said she’ll encourage them to get the shot too.

“I’ll tell them that it doesn’t hurt, so they won’t be scared and they’ll be able to take the vaccine,” she said. 

“Because I don’t want any of my friends to get COVID.”

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