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Ontario prepares to vaccinate children as province reports 321 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday

Ontario reports 321 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as the province gears up to vaccinate children aged 5 to 11.

Schools to play important role in vaccinations, health minister says

Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario is ready to vaccinate children aged five to 11, pending approval from Health Canada. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Ontario's health minister says the province will be ready to roll out vaccines for children aged five to 11 as soon as it gets the OK from Health Canada.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says vaccination plans differ between the province's 34 public health units, but schools will likely play a large role.

"Not necessarily within school hours, because most parents of children of that age would like to be with their child when they receive the vaccine," Elliott said in the legislature Tuesday.

"In evenings and weekends, that's likely to be a major location. Some will be done in primary care as well."

Health Canada is currently reviewing data from Pfizer-BioNtech, which submitted an approval request for its pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 this month.

Premier understands hesitation among parents

Speaking in Ottawa on Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford said he wants everyone to get vaccinated, including health-care workers and eligible children.

But Ford said he understands if parents may not want their kids to get a shot. 

"I want to leave that up to the parents when it comes to five to 11-year-olds," Ford said. "Do we want to get them vaccinated? Yes, but there are some parents that are vaccinated, they're a little hesitant at (their children's) age of five or six. I get it."

Pfizer's data on kids between five and 11 showed a safe and strong immune response from two doses, which are one-third the size given to teens and adults.

A recent survey by Angus Reid showed 51 per cent of parents plan to immediately vaccinate their kids when a pediatric dose becomes available, while 23 per cent said they would never give their kids a COVID-19 vaccine and 18 per cent said they would wait.

Science Table advises school-based vaccinations

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released recommended strategies yesterday on how to increase vaccine uptake in children and youth.

Its key message identifies four evidence-based strategies that include school-based vaccination, healthcare provider recommendation, reminder systems, and public health communication campaigns.

"School-based vaccination programs are a high-impact and effective approach for increasing uptake that address many practical issues (e.g., reach, convenience, feasibility, accessibility, equity)," the science table wrote in its report. "School-based and community health communication campaigns are effective if delivered by authoritative sources and included parents."

It also notes four principles that will help the vaccination campaign for children, including "build and leverage trust; avoid one-size-fits-all approaches; ensure special considerations for reaching at-risk populations; and ensure special considerations for reaching Black, Indigenous and all racialized communities."

Meanwhile, the province reported 321 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. Of those, 203 cases were found in people who are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status, while 118 were found in people who have had both shots.

The seven-day average for cases, which levels out peaks and valleys in the data, continued October's downward trend, and now stands at 366. The province is also reporting 10 new deaths of people with the virus.

There are also 215 people who have been hospitalized with the virus. Of those, 188 are either not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status.

Similarly, there are 134 people in ICU with COVID-19, with 118 of those cases being people who aren't fully vaccinated or have an unknown status.

Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health's daily provincial update:

New school-related cases: 90, including 85 students and five staff. As of yesterday, two of Ontario's 4,844 public schools (roughly 0.04 per cent) were closed due to COVID-19.

Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 134, with 91 needing a ventilator to breathe.

Active cases: 2,978.

Vaccinations: The province administered 21,671 doses of COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. Just under 84 per cent per cent of eligible Ontarians, those aged 12 and older, have now had two doses of vaccine.

with files from The Canadian Press

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