Most kids in northeastern Ontario have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19
Decision to get booster shots complicated by new Omicron-specific vaccine on the horizon
Across northeastern Ontario, COVID shots are going into the arms of kids under five for the first time.
Public health officials are reporting strong bookings for the new children's vaccine, which have only been available for a week.
But most older kids are still not vaccinated, nine months after they became eligible.
In Timiskaming, 39 per cent of children aged five to 11 have had two doses of vaccine, it's 38 per cent in Algoma, 35 per cent in Sudbury-Manitoulin, 33 per cent for Nipissing and Parry Sound, and 27 per cent in the Porcupine health district.
"So certainly we do have some work to do," said Kendra Brunet, the manager of COVID response for the Porcupine Health Unit.
"But over the next few weeks we have several child and youth friendly clinics set up, as well as outdoor clinics so that we can get those vaccine rates up for the return to school," she said.
Nastassia McNair, the manager of COVID planning for Public Health Sudbury and Districts, says based on the lower uptake for children, she'll be happy if they hit 30 or 40 per cent vaccine coverage for the newly eligible six months to five-years old group.
She says vaccination clinics have been quiet over the summer, but are starting to get busier.
"It's kind of the nature of our work in general," said McNair.
"Even now with our routine immunizations, we're starting to see August be busier than July, so when individuals are kind of in that mentality of return to work, return to school, we tend to see more appointments book up."
Some of those bookings are for the newly available second booster shot for those over 18.
However, many have yet to get their first booster since they were opened up in November 2021. About 57 per cent of those over 12 in Sudbury-Manitoulin have had three doses, 55 per cent in Timiskaming, 60 per cent in Algoma and 61 per cent for North Bay-Parry Sound.
And now the decision whether or not to get the booster shot has become more complicated.
A new bivalent vaccine, specifically designed to protect against the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19, is awaiting approval from the federal government.
Public health officials in the northeast are anticipating it will be available this fall and are incorporating it into their plans for expanded vaccine clinics in the coming months.
However, anyone who gets a booster this summer is advised to wait five months before getting this new and improved vaccine.
"Pending approval of that vaccine certainly does change the game a little bit, but we do recommend that if you're considering getting your second booster at this point, that you could have that conversation with a primary care provider to determine what is the best timing for you," said Brunet.