Ontario health units are stepping up efforts to immunize young people, using pricing and social media, as the window quickly closes for students to be fully immune to COVID-19 before school starts.
Youth aged 12 to 17 have the lowest overall immunization rate of all eligible age cohorts in the province. Just over 64% have received an injection and 41% are fully vaccinated, with variations by region.
Barry Pakes, professor of public health at the University of Toronto, said many families are busy with other activities in the summer and may not realize they only have a few days to go. vaccinate to be fully vaccinated by the beginning of September.
Students are expected to receive a first dose by the end of the August long weekend to be fully immune for Labor Day.
“People just aren’t in that ‘School is only five weeks away, we really need to focus on our protection so that we can go back to school normally” ”, a- he said in an interview. “That’s really the main focus, and the other part is how we actually do it. “
The government has announced plans to resume classes and other in-person activities, looking at vaccination rates among eligible students, staff and community members.
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The relatively low rate among young people is partly related to the timing of vaccine deployment, Pakes said. Young people in virus hotspots like Toronto and Peel became eligible for Pfizer-BioNTech injections a little earlier than in other areas, where appointments began to open in June, as school touched down. at its end and the summer vacation began.
Towards the end of July, health units began launching targeted initiatives to increase numbers, with an emphasis on going back to school in a few weeks. Peterborough Public Health offers walk-in clinics for youth and has partnered with the Peterborough Petes, the local Ontario Hockey League team, to encourage young fans to get the shot.
York Region sent letters to families in areas with low immunization rates, personalized for individual schools, including frequently asked questions about vaccines. Peel Public Health enabled young people and families to skip the lines at immunization clinics on July 21 and 22, as part of a “Vax to School” campaign. Several health units are also using social media campaigns to reach out to young people.
In Windsor-Essex County, about 55% of young people have only received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr Wajid Ahmed, the region’s medical officer of health, said summer was a factor in lowering rates as some families don’t want vaccine appointments or possible side effects to hamper their vacation plans. There are also unique concerns of reluctance among parents, he said.
“For some of them, they can accept the vaccine for themselves, but they think their children should maybe wait to get the vaccine,” Ahmed said in an interview.
The health unit aims to improve access in areas with low vaccination rates, by organizing pop-up clinics in schools and the local shopping center, some involving incentives such as prices for laptops and vouchers. power supply.
Recent clinics held in schools have had a lower-than-expected utilization rate, Ahmed said, but the results have been “better than having nothing at all.” He said there were plans to move the vaccination campaign to individual schools with low vaccination in September.
“When we get to the point where the school starts to open up, there will be more focused efforts that we need to do in each of these schools,” he said.
The government has yet to release its back-to-school plan, but the education minister has said immunization rates among eligible students, staff and the wider community will be taken into account then. that the province aim for a month of September with more extracurricular and authorized activities.
The top doctor in the province also stressed the importance of high vaccine coverage among youth and young adults, predicting that COVID-19 cases will increase in the fall when they congregate indoors socially and for classes.
The provincial government did not specify a goal for immunizing young people before classes began. When asked, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott responded with overall vaccination goals for the province to move beyond Stage 3, a reopening plan that does not involve schools.
Pakes said a rule requiring students to get vaccinated to participate in extracurricular activities like sports and clubs would help those activities run safely in the fall.
“It will be a difficult thing for governments to say, but it is really what is needed to keep everyone safe,” he said.
Returning to class also presents an opportunity to make vaccination accessible to students who have not been vaccinated during the summer, he said.
“I think (the vaccination rate) will go up and I really hope it will,” he said. “We just have to encourage him properly. “
With files from Allison Jones