Calling all students! Make COVID-19 vaccine part of back-to-school to do list, region says

Health officials in Waterloo region plan to set up COVID-19 vaccine clinics in malls to encourage young people who are back-to-school shopping to also get their first or second dose before classes start next month.

As older age groups get vaccine, 'burden of COVID-19' shifts to younger people, says Dr. Hsiu-Li Wan

Gavin Henderson, 13, gets his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic held at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, in Etobicoke in May. Waterloo region officials want young people to make getting the COVID-19 vaccine part of their back-to-school plans and are organizing pop-up clinics in local malls. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

As students plan for back-to-school, regional health officials hope that along with buying new clothes and school supplies, they will also plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

School is set to return on Sept. 7 and Vickie Murray of Waterloo region's COVID-19 vaccine task force says they're trying to find creative ways to reach young people.

The region recently held clinics in schools, spaces where students and their families might feel comfortable.

Next, the region is planning pop-up vaccination clinics in malls in the region, Murray said, giving younger people an easy opportunity to get their first or second doses.

"We hope that people will think back-to-school shopping and back-to-school vaccination go together," Murray said Friday during a regular COVID-19 media briefing.

Above provincial average

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region's medical officer of health, says in the 2020-2021 school year, there were a low number of outbreaks in schools because there were multiple layers of protection to keep children safe. That included masking, physical distancing, hand washing as well as good case and contact management.

But she also wants to see more eligible students get both doses. Students aged 11 and under aren't expected to be able to get the vaccine until late this year, early next year, Wang told regional councillors earlier this week, as clinical trials are ongoing and would still require Health Canada approvals.

On Friday, Wang also noted that although the 12 to 17-year-old age group is the least vaccinated in the region, partly because they were the last to gain access to the vaccine, they are still above the provincial average.

For 12 to 17-year-olds in Waterloo region:

  • 73.44 per cent have one dose.
  • 60.11 per cent have both doses.

For 12 to 17-year-olds in Ontario:

  • 69.1 per cent have one dose.
  • 54.7 per cent have both doses.

"It's really important for us to keep on working to improve those rates. We definitely want to be higher," Wang said, noting the trend is that the majority of new COVID-19 cases are in people who are unvaccinated.

"As we vaccinate higher and higher proportions of our older populations, then we are seeing the burden of COVID-19 shift to those that are younger, less than 40, less than 30," she said.

"The best way to keep even those who can't be vaccinated protected is to vaccinate everyone that is eligible around them."

Could clinics go into schools this fall?

The region has talked about whether vaccination clinics could go into schools this fall, but Wang said there are a number of things to consider before doing that.

"Parents generally like to be with their children when they get vaccinated," Wang said. 

"A lot of people, myself included, they think well maybe if we just put it in schools, but then you don't have the parents there with them, oftentimes it's when ... the parents are working, so you have to come up with ways that are what we think is best."

Murray said the region will do whatever needs to be done to get first and second doses into the arms of young people in school.

"If it makes sense to take vaccine into schools in the fall, we'll absolutely look at it," she said. "Everything's on the table, but we'll look at it and see if that makes sense at that time."

Wang added, "We'll continue to do everything we can do to make it more accessible, make it more convenient for youth and their parents to get vaccinated."


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