Toronto Joins Calls for Ford Government to Make COVID-19 Vaccines Mandatory for Eligible Schoolchildren

Eager to safeguard a successful return of children to class, Toronto is adding its voice to demands that the Ford government make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for eligible students.

On Monday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Eileen de Villa will ask the Toronto Public Health Board to endorse your call for COVID-19 to be added to Ontario’s list of nine diseases, including mumps and diphtheria, against which students should be vaccinated.

Chairman of the Board of Health Coun. Joe Cressy said the move is vital to ensure that the virulent Delta variant of the virus does not have a greater presence and triggers massive outbreaks that would close schools and threaten a new closure.

“This doesn’t even need to be legislated – Ontario’s health minister can approve this today,” Cressy told the Star, adding that only the province, not the city or local school boards, has the power to add mandatory vaccinations for the school. kids.

“Given the urgency of keeping schools open and as safe as possible, I see no reason for delay as the science is clear on this case,” he said.

“This should not be a controversial issue; we already need nine vaccines, this one should be added immediately.”

While some health experts are concerned that adding COVID-19 to the mandatory list antagonize parents who doubt vaccines and make them less open to persuasion, Dr. Anna Banerji of the University of Toronto said hitting should be mandatory.

“We have vaccines for diphtheria, diseases that are very rare, so why not guarantee vaccination against COVID-19 in the middle of the fourth wave of the pandemic when we try to keep children in school?” said Banerji, an infectious disease expert at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“Having these children vaccinated could save their lives or prevent many children from suffering and prevent (COVID-19) from spreading to other people in the community.

“I support it, I think it’s the right thing to do.”

The government of Prime Minister Doug Ford has heard such calls from the umbrella group of Ontario school boards and, in a separate letter earlier this month, the Toronto District School Board, which educates some 247,000 students.

Making vaccination mandatory for students 12 and older, as the province has for teachers and school staff, “would further protect our students, staff, and their families from the virus and help keep our schools open, which is of utmost importance for the learning and well-being of our students ” the TDSB said.

While provincial officials in the past said they were considering the idea of ​​mandatory vaccinations for students, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott suggested Thursday that COVID-19 jabs would not be added to the mandatory list.

“Ontario has published the most far-reaching mandatory vaccination policies for high-risk settings in the country, which will provide an additional layer of protection in these already highly regulated settings to protect our most vulnerable Ontarians,” wrote Alexandra Hilkene in an email.

“The reporting and evaluation components of the (School Pupil Immunization Act) are already being accomplished through existing systems,” he said, and public health units can verify the vaccination status of students in the event of a outbreak.

As of Wednesday, Toronto Public Health reported nine confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, but none were serious enough to cause a school to close. Since classes resumed, a local student has been hospitalized with the virus.

New COVID-19 data for Toronto shows that two weeks after students returned to school, the city, like the rest of Ontario, has yet to experience a dreaded spike in school and community spread during the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Experts note that Toronto is one of the most vaccinated major cities in the world, approaching 80% of residents 12 years and older fully vaccinated with a 90% target, and continued use of masks and other precautions.

As of last Saturday, the seven-day average of new daily infections had fallen for the second week in a row, having risen since the reopening in mid-July. The rate of new hospitalizations has remained stable.

“It’s reassuring that the numbers aren’t going crazy,” Banerji said.

“It could still happen, but the fact that the kids have been back in school for a couple of weeks and we are not seeing a massive increase or even a steady incline is comforting.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert from Toronto, said the city can be proud of its “remarkable” progress in vaccination, but cannot be complacent.

“It is wonderful to see that we are not in a desperate situation right now, but we cannot portray everything as a retriever when we are in mid-September and we have a long fall and winter ahead of us,” with riskier inner human contact, he said. . said.

“The school is the largest authorized mass gathering event in Ontario, held five times a week for eight hours a day. We know about mitigation efforts, like masks, ventilation, and vaccinating people, but are they good enough?

“It is too early to say what the real impacts will be.”

Dr Vinita Dubey, Toronto Public Health Associate Medical Officer, said in an email that “vaccines have been shown to be very effective in reducing the risks of serious illness, hospitalization and death.

“That is why TPH supports and recommends provincial policies that encourage and increase vaccination against COVID-19 among eligible school students.

“Vaccines in the school setting will protect our school community and help build on our progress toward ending this pandemic.”

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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