Ontario parents expressed excitement and relief Thursday as the province opened COVID-19 vaccine bookings for babies and preschoolers, with shots for some set to be administered later in the day.

Appointments for children aged six months to under five years were available through the province’s online booking portal, public health units using their own booking systems, certain pharmacies and some primary care providers.

Sapphire Miller was able to snag appointments for her two sons, aged 15 months and four years old, for Thursday afternoon.

She wasn’t able to set up the appointments back-to-back — the only available options were several hours apart at a clinic about 15 minutes away from her London, Ont., home — but Miller said she was happy and relieved nonetheless.

“This has been a long time coming,” she said in an interview. “I’m very happy to give kids some extra protection.”

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird of Ottawa said she also saw some open appointments for Thursday when she checked online early in the morning, but she opted for a Saturday booking for her four-year-old son to give him more time to prepare for the shot.

It’s a “big relief” to know her son Jasper, who has asthma, will have extra protection against the virus by the time school starts in September, Rothgeb-Bird said.

“He’s probably the most high-risk of everybody in this house … so it was a nice feeling to be able to book his appointment,” she said, noting Jasper had asked his parents when he would be able to get his vaccine after they got their fourth doses this week.

Booking system working well, users report

Others who booked appointments through the online provincial portal on Thursday morning reported a relatively quick and painless experience, much different from long queues and technical issues seen during earlier vaccine rollouts.

Toronto mom Isabelle Duchaine said she was happy to have appointments set for Friday for her two toddlers — aged 16 months and two-and-a-half — after a “seamless” experience on the online site shortly after eligibility opened.

“Our plan is to pick them up from daycare, drive over and then celebrate at McDonald’s,” she said.

Robyn Sharpe managed to log on at 7:30 a.m. when she saw social media posts indicating the booking portal had opened a bit early. She scheduled a vaccine appointment for her 16-month-old daughter for next week, though the closest available clinic was in Toronto, about a 30-minute drive from her home in Brampton, Ont.

Sharpe said she had mixed emotions about the milestone because she’s concerned that the vaccines are no longer targeting the dominant strain of COVID-19.

“It just kind of feels like the only thing we can do, so we’re going to go ahead and do it, but I wish I was much more excited,” she said by phone.

Pediatric vaccine approved earlier this month

Public health units units covering Toronto, Hastings and Prince Edward counties and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark were advertising clinics offering shots as of Thursday and some pharmacies were in position to start vaccinating, too.

The immunization effort for the youngest age group is expected to ramp up across the province in the coming days.

Health Canada approved Moderna’s pediatric shot this month and Ontario’s health minister says the vaccine is safe, effective and will help protect children from the virus.

Immunocompromised youth aged 12 to 17 were also able to schedule second booster doses starting Thursday if six months had passed since their first booster dose.

This content was originally published here.