A return to in-person learning means public health units across the province will be trying to boost the number of vaccines given to school-aged children in the coming days.
Monday’s return to school will come with a range of measures to keep kids and teachers safe in classrooms and limit the chance of community spread.
But health officials continue to highlight the vaccine as the most effective tool in our arsenal to limit infection and the likelihood of severe illness.
Despite that repeated message, as of Friday, less than half of five to 11 year old children in Waterloo Region had received one dose of the vaccine and less than six per cent of children in that age group are fully vaccinated.
The local number lags slightly behind the province where just over 50 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received one dose of the vaccine.
That's why, as part of the province’s return to school plan, minister of education Stephen Lecce and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore announced the launch of school-based vaccine clinics for youth and staff earlier this week.
The province says a permission form will be coming home with kids soon asking parents to give local public health units the authority to vaccinate their child at a school-based vaccine clinic.
Region of Waterloo director of vaccine services Vickie Murray said her team met yesterday with local school boards and public health to start to work on a plan for in-school vaccinations and she hopes to have more details soon.
The plan will look at a community approach for the school-based clinics that picks neighbourhoods needing the most support.
They may also look at the possibility of using high schools or larger schools for hub model clinics, Murray said.
"Some of the data should be in to make some of those decisions today and will be based on the needs of the community," she said.
“It’s very early and we know we have a lot of work to figure out how in-school vaccinations are going to work and we want to make sure we do it in a way that’s helpful and supportive for families.”
The region’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu Li Wang said the in-school vaccination option would be another way for parents and children to access the vaccine but pointed to the large number of options already available.
First dose walk-in appointments are available for children aged 5-11 at the Pinebush clinic in Cambridge, and the Boardwalk clinic in Waterloo.
As of Friday, Murray said 30,500 vaccine appointments had been booked at the region’s three mass vaccination clinics through to the end of the month with 16,000 still available.
Information about vaccine safety and a link to book a time slot is available by clicking here.
One thing the clinics have that in-school clinics won't is allowing parents to be with their children when they’re vaccinated; something that was a priority concern in setting up the clinics, said Wang, especially for younger children.
Evening hours and weekend availability were also added in response to what parents told health officials would benefit them the most.
Wang said before working out a plan for in-school vaccinations, the health unit will need to assess demand and how to best use a finite number of clinic staff to get the best output.
“We really want to use those resources very prudently,” Wang said, adding it wouldn’t be feasible to hold 200-mini clinics in every available school.