OTTAWA -- Ottawa's COVID-19 vaccination campaign for children ramped up on Saturday as thousands of kids between 5 and 11-years-old rolled up their sleeves for their first shot.

All seven of Ottawa's community vaccination clinics are now offering paediatric doses this weekend.

The push to immunize as many as possible has been amplified by concerns over a new variant emerging from southern Africa.

Ottawa's clinics were running full speed Saturday; there were lineups outside some sites.

"A lot of relief that we're finally able to get the shots in the kiddos and excited about the next one," said Toufic Zayoun, after their kids received the first shot.

More than 1,400 doses were administered Friday to kids between 5 and 11 in the capital. As of Friday afternoon, Ottawa Public Health said nearly 5,000 appointments had been booked for the first weekend.

This comes though as concerns of a new COVID variant emerge. The Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa, appears to be more transmissible.

"I think it's too early to panic," said Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, an Ottawa critical care physician.

"We haven't had any solid data to show it could evade the vaccine, it's hard to gauge how it would respond in our setting where we have extremely good vaccination rates."

For now, Dr. Kyeremanteng is pushing for continued caution and encourages immunization.

"To me the message that's loud and clear right now is we need to think about global vaccinations very seriously," he said.

The new variant of concern is already on the minds of parents too.

"Any new variant that comes up is always concerning and it's just nice to have that extra layer of protection for the kids now too," said Christie Cowan, after her two kids got their first shot Saturday.

She's hopeful increased immunization will mean a more normal heart ahead for kids in the capital.

"If this means schools stay open, especially after Christmas, this means everything to them," said Cowan.