Joan Reenders, Immunizer, Retired Nurse

RBC Convention Centre Immunization Supersite

During my nursing career at Health Sciences Centre I have seen a number of local viral epidemics, from the frightening Respiratory Syncytial Virus affecting premature babies to the H1N1 scare in 2009 while working in Diagnostic Imaging. I saw first-hand how a contagious virus can quickly overwhelm a hospital, severely affecting even patients my own age with no prior health history. Over the last year we have seen throughout the world the devastating effects of COVID-19 for families, local communities, and even entire cities. Very quickly, hospitals in COVID hot-spots became overwhelmed and we realized that this virus is incomparable to what we have seen before – except the Spanish Flu of 1918-19.

I first signed up to be an immunizing nurse in 2009, after the H1N1 vaccine was rapidly developed just in time for the winter months. Community centres and church gymnasiums were filled with nurses vaccinating and volunteers managing the flow of people. We saw first-hand how a deadly virus (especially for those with respiratory ailments) could be stopped by a timely vaccine. Each year since 2009 I have been part of the vaccinating crew, and the 2020-21 has been a vital season for COVID vaccinations as we try to halt the deadly rampage this virus has caused. Retiring two years ago gave me more time to help in this effort, although my retirement plans have taken a backseat this year!

The sense of relief was palpable as we began vaccinating health care workers. When it came time for my turn, I remember wanting to skip to the table to get my shot! The sense of relief that came from getting the vaccine is something I will never forget. As a nurse the thought of transmitting COVID to a patient, family member, or friend fills me with dread. This vaccine is the most effective way to stop the COVID train.

It is not uncommon for people to be uneasy about a new vaccine, and the COVID vaccine is no exception. When someone comes in for their shot and needs some reassurance, the best way I can help is explain how the vaccine works. I ask them to imagine that the vaccine gives your body a “photo” of the virus so it can build the body’s defenses to be able to fight it in the future. The vaccine, in effect, builds an “army” of defense, and the side-effects one might experience are a result of that “army” being built. Typically, one has a sore arm for about 24 hours after the vaccine is given, but some have mild aches, fever, chills, swollen glands – all signs that the body is building its defenses. The knowledge that protection is 50% only one week after the first shot is quite reassuring!

This virus has caused so much personal grief and family tragedy, and for those affected we need to grieve with them. For those who have not been tragically affected, there can be some silver linings: more time with family and pets, slowing our hectic pace, and remembering  that we can be part of something bigger than ourselves – that we can work together to protect the vulnerable among us. As an immunizing nurse, it has been really satisfying to be part of the effort to help protect all Manitobans!


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Renata Meconse with daughter Ava, age 10

Renata Meconse with daughter Ava, age 10

During the initial vaccine rollout in early 2021, Ava asked, “When will kids be able to get their vaccine?”

We cautiously went through 2021 waiting for Ava to be eligible for her vaccination. That day came later in November 2021. Before getting her shot, Ava and I read the fact sheet about children and vaccines. We talked about it and planned what we would do that day. She normally feels apprehensive about needles, so we talked about that, too. We talked about how she had gotten needles before for blood tests and other vaccines. We also talked about why this vaccine is important and her choice in getting it.

The day of her vaccination, we made sure Ava wore a short-sleeved shirt. As expected, she was still a little nervous about the needle itself. I held her hand and she felt better with me being beside her. Before we knew it, the doctor had given her the vaccine and she was done! Afterwards, we went for ice cream. She stayed home for the rest of the day and we monitored her. She felt a slight soreness in her arm that evening but by the next day she was fine.

For Ava, she didn’t only want to protect herself, she said she wanted “To protect Grannie.” We live in a multigenerational household and my mom, who turns 81 this year, was getting out of the hospital in late December. It was great that we could get our entire household vaccinated before she got home.

I’m so glad we did get vaccinated as COVID did hit our household. My family members who tested positive with rapid tests isolated while they awaited their PCR tests and we all did our best to minimize interactions with each other. They were isolated in their rooms. I brought food and other things they needed to minimize in-person contact. We sanitized the washroom after each use, washed hands frequently, wore masks and did everything to keep a distance from each other. I am thankful to share that the members of my household who tested positive (and were fully vaccinated) got through COVID without serious symptoms or hospitalization. Also, I am very thankful that Ava and I did not get the virus. Knowing that Omicron spreads very easily and quickly, we are glad to have had the vaccines to help protect us.

As we move into 2022, with the Omicron variant spreading, I feel safer knowing that our family is vaccinated. Ava will soon be getting her second shot and other children her age will also be getting theirs. We look forward to doing more things with other people as the weather gets warmer. And once it’s safer, we’d like to travel and go to gatherings. Ava loves to dance at powwows and I love to watch her. Last summer, Ava was able to dance, but a lot of powwows were cancelled or limited in size. We look forward to that time when our communities can gather, see each other in person, hug, laugh, and kids can play together and dance. 

When Ava was vaccinated, it was an opportunity for her peers to talk about what it felt like. I encourage young people to talk to their friends and peers about getting vaccinated. As we go through this pandemic, we need to talk to each other, encourage and support one another. 

We were so glad when Ava’s question was finally answered—now is the time for kids to have their turn at getting vaccinated.

Even though COVID-19 hit our household, we were able to fight it and everyone was able to overcome it. Thinking about all of our generations and how we need to protect one another, I encourage youth and young adults to get vaccinated. There are vaccine clinics you can go to get your vaccine done quickly and in friendly environments. You can also go to pharmacies or your doctor’s office. 

If you have questions before deciding, read from credible sources and ask at the vaccine clinic. Get immunized to protect your siblings, cousins and little ones who are too young to be vaccinated. 

Be a role model for your friends in following health measures that can protect our grandparents, parents, aunties and uncles. If someone in your family hasn’t been vaccinated, support and encourage them to get theirs, go together. We all have a role to play in protecting our family, our community and each other.

Be kind and take care of each other ♥  

During the initial vaccine rollout in early 2021, Ava asked, “When will kids be able to get their vaccine?” We cautiously went through 2021 waiting for Ava to be eligible for her vaccination. That day came later in November 2021. Before getting her shot, Ava and I read the fact sheet about children and vaccines. […]

Scott & Abigail Larson with daughter Nala, age 6

Scott & Abigail Larson with daughter Nala, age 6

We chose to vaccinate our daughter Nala, who is 6 years old, to keep her safe but also because we have new babies, elderly and at-risk people in our extended families. While we weren’t too anxious about the risk of Nala herself ending up in the ICU, the bigger issue was reducing transmission to those who might get severely ill. We read the report from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and we clearly understood that there are very low risks associated with giving the COVID vaccine to kids.

Scott & Abigail Larson with daughter Nala, age 6

When Nala got her first vaccine dose she was thinking about PJ Masks because it was a prize at the immunization clinic. About the experience with the needle, she said, “It didn’t hurt. I thought the needle would be big and sharp. It wasn’t really sharp, but it had to be a little sharp to get into my skin.” Nala didn’t have side effects and went to her regular gymnastics and swimming classes two days later.

Nala looked forward to showing off that she got the shot because she was the first in her class to get vaccinated. We filmed Nala getting her shot and shared the video with family so the other cousins her age would see that it wasn’t such a bad experience. After all, if little Nala can do it, so can they! 

We have four children in school. Our 16-year-old is at-risk of COVID symptoms due to her asthma. She feels safer now that Nala and her 11-year-old brother have had their first vaccine dose. Our kids have been good, ensuring everyone in the family is following the public health rules. This year we’ve gotten fewer letters home from school about COVID exposures, fewer direct contacts with COVID cases, and haven’t had to get tested as often. We believe it makes a difference that teachers are vaccinated and that parents are keeping their kids home if they’re sick. 

Abigail works as a midwife in a hospital and has seen nurses from her department being moved to the ICU. We know there is a huge burden on the health system, and there needs to be space left in the hospital for those who are immuno-compromised and experience severe COVID symptoms. Now that kids age 5 to 11 are eligible to be vaccinated we think they should be. We completely understand why people might be anxious or stressed about it, but we would encourage parents to think about the greater good. 

Scott & Abigail Larson with daughter Nala, age 6

We chose to vaccinate our daughter Nala, who is 6 years old, to keep her safe but also because we have new babies, elderly and at-risk people in our extended families. While we weren’t too anxious about the risk of Nala herself ending up in the ICU, the bigger issue was reducing transmission to those […]

Carlo and Heidi Cecilio with daughter Zooey, age 8

Carlo and Heidi Cecilio with daughter Zooey, age 8

We’re from the Philippines and we arrived in Winnipeg in February 2021. When we came to Canada, Zooey, our 8-year old daughter, had to go through a swab test for COVID-19 and catch up on other immunization shots. Because of all of that she was a little more experienced with what to expect when getting her COVID-19 vaccine. Before that, she would cry or do evasive moves to avoid the needle. 

When we took Zooey for her first COVID-19 vaccine dose, we were so proud of her bravery. She said, “It hurts a little, but it’s okay.” It was nice to be able to distract her with cookies which took her mind off the needle.

One of the main reasons we wanted Zooey to get vaccinated is because we’ve lost family and friends to COVID-19, including Zooey’s uncle and godfather. We don’t want Zooey or anyone else in our family to go through a loss like that. It’s been a tough year. 

Initially, when the COVID-19 vaccines first came out we worried about its safety and if it would work. After reading more information about the vaccines, we felt we could trust the science and Health Canada, and didn’t worry about it anymore. 

Zooey didn’t have any side effects from her first COVID vaccine dose. We monitored her the first night and kept putting a hand on her forehead to check her temperature, but she was just acting like a normal kid—busy playing! There was no redness or soreness on her arm either.

I know COVID has had a big impact in Canada, but I think it’s worse in the Philippines. We don’t post photos on social media of Zooey on playgrounds or playing in the snow—not because we don’t want to, but because we know our friends in Manila have to keep their kids home a lot because of COVID. Their kids don’t go out as much there as they do here.

The first time Zooey was invited to a playdate in Winnipeg, we said no. We were wondering, are the parents vaccinated? Have they been exposed to COVID-19? After her first shot, we’ll feel more confident if she goes on a playdate, and we’ll feel even better when she gets her second shot. We plan to go to movie theatres and eat in a mall food court. Zooey is looking forward to being able to remove her mask more often, because it can get in the way when she’s playing.

We’re both photographers and we love to travel. Zooey is starting to make her own journal, take videos and photos. We look forward to getting to know Winnipeg and Manitoba. The COVID vaccine will give us more confidence to explore more of Canada.

We’re from the Philippines and we arrived in Winnipeg in February 2021. When we came to Canada, Zooey, our 8-year old daughter, had to go through a swab test for COVID-19 and catch up on other immunization shots. Because of all of that she was a little more experienced with what to expect when getting […]

Additional Resources

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine from official sources.