How Waterloo Region is making the Pinebush COVID-19 vaccine clinic more kid-friendly

Waterloo Region's COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Pinebush Road in Cambridge is gearing up to start vaccinating children between five and 11 years old.

The region opened appointments on Tuesday, with the first shots going into arms on Friday.

The clinic is now brighter and more colourful, with pictures of animals, cartoon characters and video game characters in areas where children will be vaccinated.

There's also a bright welcome sign at the entrance, welcoming people in 23 different languages and offering words of encouragement like "I am calm" and "I am brave."

"It's important for the kids to have a good experience and to tie it to a good memory," said Lisa Anstey, the clinic's manager. "Health-care is a positive thing and we want them to make that connection and have a bit of fun as they're going through."

Immunization stations have fidget toys and TV screens to help distract kids while they get their shots. Afterwards, children and their families can go to Camp Pinebush, where they're able to watch TV, colour or play games as they wait 30 minutes for observation.

"The kids are our clients," Anstey said. "The kids have been through so much during the pandemic and we want to show them that there is hope."

There are also sensory-safe stations for children who need a quieter space or more distraction.

"We know it can't be all fun and games," Anstey said. "We got amazing supports from Grand River Hospital and the region. We have paediatricians, child life specialists, we have incredible nurses who have worked with children for over 30 years. It’s an incredible mix of skills that we have coming together to support."

Kelly Grindrod, a vaccine expert at the University of Waterloo, has advice for parents when taking children to vaccination appointments.

"Get them to sit in your lap, not because you're going to hold them down, but because you're going to engage with the distraction as well," she said. "You're going to watch Paw Patrol, you're going to watch them play Nintendo."

Grindrod added it's important to focus on the good parts of the experience.

"We spend a lot more time talking about the reward and the treat after than we do about the moment," she said. "The needle itself is very fast. So, we just say it's a very fast experience, it may be a very fast pinch, it's one second. But, what's your reward after?"

The clinic expects to receive its first batch of the Pfizer children's vaccine Thursday.