In a bid to increase COVID-19 vaccination uptake among children aged five to 11 in Ontario, the provincial government says it is launching school-based vaccination clinics.
The government made the announcement on Wednesday, as students and teachers prepare to return to in-class learning next Monday.
According to provincial data, 82 per cent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
However, only around 48 per cent of children five to 11 years of age have had their first shot.
In a press release issued Wednesday, the province said to “further encourage voluntary vaccination for children aged five to 11, the government has asked school boards to work with local Public Health Units (PHUs) to add school-day vaccination clinics for students.”
The provincial government said school boards are also “expected to work with PHUs” to share documents and information with families about the vaccine.
“In the coming days, parents will receive a form offering the opportunity to safely and conveniently provide public health units the authority to vaccinate their child at a school-based vaccine clinic,” the release reads.
Asked why vaccine uptake in the province is so low among those aged five to 11 and why vaccination has not been mandated in schools, Ontario’s top doctor, Kieran Moore, said “it’s a new vaccine.”
“And as a result of that, we want greater experience with (it) before we ever mandate it,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Moore added that to date, no other jurisdiction in Canada has mandated COVID-19 vaccination in schools.
However, Moore said he would “love to see a higher uptake of the vaccine” among children.
He pointed to the United States, saying the pediatric vaccine has shown “significant protection against the rare risk of hospitalization in children and use of the intensive care unit.”
“It’s almost a 20-to-1 ratio, just like we’re seeing in adults,” he said. “Relative risk is much higher in unvaccinated children compared to vaccinated children.”
Moore said he expects to see the same benefit among vaccinated children in Ontario.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province is seeking to provide more options to families to “reduce the barriers,” and make it easier to have their children vaccinated.
According to Lecce, the province plans to have some of the school-based clinics up and running by next Friday.
“That’s the speed by which we’re moving because of the imperative of increasing vaccine rates and protecting these environments as much as possible,” he said.
Speaking to reporters at a pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Toronto Zoo on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged parents to take advantage of the school-based vaccination clinics once they are available.
“When the kids bring home a permission slip, parents, when you have them, please sign them – please sign them and get them back,” he said.
Ford said he is “cautious” but “optimistic” that schools across the province will have a “good opening” on Monday.
“We’re going to throw everything we possibly can, making sure that we have a good opening,” he said.
In the press release, the provincial government said it is also supporting a mass vaccination clinic at the International Centre in Mississauga with “dedicated times” for education and child-care staff.
The provincial government said it is also opening 10 vaccination clinics across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area that offer dedicated time slots for education and child-care staff.
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