Toronto can, and should, fully vaccinate 90 percent of eligible residents to keep COVID-19 at bay so schools can remain open and closures are not part of the fourth wave of the pandemic, officials from the city.

“We are focused on reaching this goal so that we can protect the great progress we have made due to the world leading figures that we have already put on the board in terms of vaccinating people,” Mayor John Tory told reporters. during an online briefing.

“That, in turn, will protect the health of all residents, protect schools, protect jobs, protect all the progress we have made since the darkest days of the pandemic.”

With experts predicting that the spread of the virulent delta variant will accelerate after children return to classroom learning this week, many under the age of 12 and ineligible for vaccination, officials urged everyone to be fully protected as soon as possible.

“The fall months ahead of us will not be as quiet as we would like,” said Toronto’s chief of public health Dr. Eileen de Villa, referring to concerns that the Delta variant could make young people sick and put pressure on to the health care system.

“The best way to preserve the flexibility in life that we have, and to protect that large number of little people who still cannot be vaccinated, is to increase vaccination levels and adjust our contact with each other”, through physical distancing.

Toronto has administered about 4.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. About 84 percent of eligible Toronto residents have received at least one dose, and just under 77 percent are fully vaccinated.

With its current vaccination rate, Toronto would hit the 90 percent threshold, where Ontario’s chief of public health says the virus would have a hard time spreading rapidly through communities, by early December.

City officials, however, believe they can reach the milestone sooner by convincing those who resist and bringing them vaccinations at subway stations, workplaces and even at front doors.

They pointed to data showing that unvaccinated residents are seven times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than unvaccinated Toronto residents, and a new survey conducted for the city suggests that many strongholds are open to persuasion.

the Ipsos survey of 1,203 Toronto residents, conducted online between July 30 and Aug. 10, found a seven percent drop in “vaccine hesitancy” since March.

The survey found that only 6 percent of respondents were opposed to vaccines, while 8 percent said they considered themselves undecided, with questions and potential barriers that public health officials may try to address.

Nearly two-thirds of parents of children under the age of 11 said they plan to vaccinate their children when they are eligible. The survey’s “credibility interval” is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points 19 out of 20 times.

Toronto’s vaccination progress spiked last week, De Villa said, with possible factors including Ontario’s announcement of vaccination certificates and mandates and some people preparing to return to offices after working remotely.

Among those completing remote work in the coming weeks will be thousands of Toronto city employees, Tory said, promoting a “safe and gradual” return to workplaces with mandatory vaccinations, use of masks and modified spaces to reduce the risk of infection.

The mayor said he hopes other employers will follow suit and restore some vitality to business areas emptied by the pandemic, even as Peel’s public health chief urged residents there to continue working remotely if possible.

Dr. Lawrence Loh told reporters that staying away from co-workers is one of the ways to limit in-person contact. Ontario’s COVID-19 scientific advisers say reducing in-person contact is key, along with increasing vaccination rates, in silencing the impacts of the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Tory denied any contradictions, saying that some of Toronto’s staff will continue to work remotely and, if circumstances warrant, the city will delay returning to workplaces.

“I don’t think it’s really different from what Dr. Loh says,” Tory said.

David Rider is the head of Star’s City Council office and a reporter covering city hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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