Ontario doctors calls for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for education workers

Published Aug. 12, 2021 12:40 p.m. ET
Updated Aug. 12, 2021 3:07 p.m. ET

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The Ontario Medical Association is calling on the province to implement mandatory vaccinations for those working in schools as well as mandatory indoor masking as kids get set to head back to the classrooms.

"Look, given that children under the age of 12 are currently ineligible to receive the COVID vaccine, they are, of course, relying on the rest of us to keep them safe. And we believe that schools should be that safe space. And so, what we are calling for is that all health-care workers, as well as educational workers, should be fully vaccinated," OMA President Dr. Adam Kassam told CP24 Thursday evening.

There are no COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in children under 12 in Canada. Children 12 and up are eligible to be vaccinated, but vaccination rates have lagged in the youngest age groups.

"As we are looking towards the fall and hopefully a return to in-class learning, we want to make sure that we are being able to manage the case numbers and ultimately hospitalizations because ultimately, what we really want to be able to do is take care of the people in terms of the capacity in our health-care system,” Kassam said.

“We are probably in the seventh or eighth inning of this ballgame. And we all want to be able to come out the victor here. And what we really need to focus on is work together, collaborate and make sure that we all have a path forward for success.”

Dr. Peter Jüni, the scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said it is important that public health measures like masking, cohorting, physical distancing and getting as many people vaccinated remain in place to allow schools to be open this fall.

"The entry doors into schools are the community, especially parents and teachers and school staff. The more we get parents, teachers staff vaccinated, the less entry doors for the virus," he said.

Jüni also noted that keeping children in classrooms will also depend on having cases in the community low, "not above 1,000 to 1,500 cases."

"We should be okay. It won't be easy. It will be bumpy, but we should also be a bit positive there. Without vaccines, we will be in big trouble. With the vaccines, we can do much better now. And that's a good start at least," Jüni said.

The call from the OMA to make vaccines mandatory for those who work in schools comes the same day that Toronto’s medical officer of health issued a new call for eligible young people to get vaccinated.

“We are encouraging all eligible youth to get vaccinated before the start of the school year,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said in a statement. “The COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against the virus and its more transmissible variants and will allow youth to return to the activities they love as safely as possible.”

Health officials have been urging the public to make sure that they are fully vaccinated in order to protect against the virus — particularly the Delta variant first identified in India – which has been driving up infections rapidly in areas around the world.

Youth vaccination rates have lagged behind the rest of the population, causing concern among education and health experts as kids prepare to return to in-person learning in September.

As of Thursday, nearly 74 per cent of all eligible Ontarians are fully vaccinated, while just 54.1 per cent of those aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated (close to 69 per cent have had at least one shot).

Nearly a full third of Ontario school kids aged 12 to 17 will not be fully vaccinated by the time school starts in September.

The Ford government has released a back-to-school plan that includes masking and cohorting and has said that it is confident the plan will keep kids safe, though it has repeatedly said that it will not make vaccination mandatory for any person or industry.

Teacher unions have slammed the document as falling short.

The OMA has previously called for the province to implement mandatory vaccinations for health care workers as well as a provincewide vaccine certificate program that would allow employers and businesses to know who has been vaccinated.

 

TORONTO PLANS TO 'CLOSELY MONITOR' SCHOOLS

Toronto Public Health (TPH) also said Thursday it will be boosting its efforts to reach out to young people in neighbourhoods and school communities with low COVID-19 vaccination rates as kids return to classes in the coming weeks.

The health unit said that over the coming days, it will be offering youth mobile vaccine clinics in neighbourhoods where youth vaccine uptake has been low. The clinics will run from Friday to Monday and will offer an opportunity for those 12 to 17 and their families to get vaccinated.

When classes resume in September, the health unit said, it will continue to "closely monitor" vaccination rates and cases to “proactively identify school communities” where further vaccination opportunities are needed.

“If a COVID-19 outbreak is declared at a school, an in-person vaccine clinic may be held if there is low vaccine coverage rate in the neighbourhood and age group, and/or if community transmission is greatly impacting students,” the health unit said in a statement.

TPH pointed out that under the provincial Health Care Consent Act, there is no minimum age to provide consent for any medical treatment, including vaccination and that adolescents do not need a parent or guardian to consent if they want to get vaccinated.

The latest update on how officials will help schools stay safe comes as parents face a deadline to select virtual or in-person learning for the coming school year. Today marks the deadline for families of students in the Toronto District School Board system to select whether they will return to in-person learning or opt for virtual learning this fall.

Here's where you can find youth vaccination clinics over the next few days:

  • Friday, August 13 from noon to 6 p.m.: Weston Collegiate Institute, 100 Pine St.
  • Saturday, August 14 from noon to 3 p.m.: Albion Heights Junior Middle School, 45 Lynmont Rd.
  • Sunday, August 15 from noon to 3 p.m.: Lawrence Heights Community Centre, 5 Replin Rd.
  • Monday, August 16 from noon to 6 p.m.: Albion Centre Mall, 1530 Albion Rd.

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