The local COVID vaccination rate for children five to 11 continues to improve ahead of the return to in-person learning planned for Jan. 17.
About 43 per cent of the age group has already received their first dose, according to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU). Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for the SMDHU, said in a media briefing on Jan. 12 that an additional 2,195 children have appointments for their first dose along with over 7,000 booked for their second shot. Though transmission can and has happened in schools, the health unit has seen a higher degree of transmission generally in the community, so he’s happy to see students returning to schools.
“This is something that medical officers of health have called for consistently throughout the pandemic, myself included,” Gardner said. “And so I think it’s the important decision for the province to have made for the overall well-being of our children, mental well-being, physical well-being, educational attainment, also support for families to be able to attend work.”
The transition back to in-person classes is possible in part due to the low hospitalization rates among children, Gardner said. There were two local cases of hospitalization in children five to 11 in December and none so far in January, which helps the health unit gauge the severity of the illness amongst younger populations.
The return to in-person learning also includes multiple layers of protection, such as screening for symptoms, masks and physical distancing. In addition, the health unit has worked to make vaccinations available to education staff, childcare staff and students at their community clinics, which now offer drop-in appointments at most locations.
Ontario’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced the creation of school-based vaccine clinics this week along with a batch of other safety measures for the return to in-person learning. The government will provide rapid antigen tests and masks for students and staff as well as HEPA filters to improve ventilation in schools, but Gardner still stressed the importance of students and staff staying home when sick.
“We do anticipate that there’ll be challenges for all involved with this return to class,” Gardner said. “We as a health unit have been in communication [on an] ongoing basis with our school boards throughout the pandemic and in preparation for this return to school and are here as a resource to advise our school boards and our schools as they commence again with the return of students in in-class education.”
For more information on attending local schools during COVID, visit the health unit’s website.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that 71 per cent of children 5 to 11 had already received their first dose of the COVID vaccine. Dr. Charles Gardner misspoke when providing this statistic in a Jan. 12 briefing. The actual rate of vaccination within the age group is 43 per cent.