School-based vaccination clinics are a “high impact and effective approach” for accelerating the rollout among younger children and should be widely utilized once Health Canada approves the vaccine for use in kids as young as five, a group of scientists advising the Ford government says.

The Ontario Science Advisory Table has published a new report detailing four principals that can be used to boost youth immunization rates in the province in anticipation of the expected approval of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages five to 11.

The report says that while school vaccination programs “have not traditionally been used for younger age groups” in Ontario, they do address a number of accessibility and equity issues.

For that reason the scientists are advising the Ford government to utilize schools for the administration of vaccines to younger children as much as possible, eschewing the mass vaccination centres that were instrumental in vaccinating adults earlier in the pandemic.

“If feasible, try to vaccinate children in the school they attend, including evening or weekend school-based vaccine clinics, to enable a familiar setting to be leveraged while allowing parents to be present if desired,” the report states. “While pop-up clinics can be set up in other locations (e.g., hockey rinks, sports clubs, community centres), schools provide among the broadest and most equitable community reach.”

Health minister expects approval ‘soon’

Pfizer submitted a formal application to Health Canada to approve its vaccine for younger children earlier this month and Health Minister Christine Elliott told reporters on Wednesday that her government has “been hearing” that approval will be coming “soon,” though she said that no specific date has been provided by the feds as of yet.

In advance of the approval, Elliot said that Ministry of Health staff have been reviewing vaccination plans from all 34 public health units and are working “to make sure they are ready to go.”

She said that the plans involve the use of school-based clinics but not necessarily during learning hours.

“Some of them may be on weekends or in the evening because I think a lot of parents vaccinating a five-year-old would want to be with their child,” she said. “So that's why they will be held in schools but not during school days. That will be probably the equivalent I guess of a mass vaccination clinic for children. Bu t also primary care will be involved as well as some parents might feel more comfortable taking your child to their primary care doctor or nurse practitioner.”

School boards report another 90 cases

In addition to school-based clinics, the science table is also recommending that the province utilize “school-based and community health communication campaigns” to boost uptake as well as “appropriately messaged school-based, community-specific, and public health campaigns” and “personalized reminders” delivered to parents.

The advice comes amid a recent decline in school-related cases of COVID-19 across Ontario that has sparked optimism, given the impending approval of the Pfizer vaccine for younger children.

On Wednesday Ontario’s publicly-funded school boards reported another 90 new lab-confirmed infections among students and staff, down from 107 at this time last week and 269 two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the number of active infections associated with the public school system now stands at 1,020. That is the lowest that number has been since Sept. 21.

There are currently only two Ontario schools that are closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks but a count by CP24 reveals that there are at least 120 individual classroom cohorts self isolating in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area due to positive cases.

It should also be noted that schools and child-care centres continue to make up an increasingly larger share of Ontario’s active caseload, as infections do not appear to be declining as quickly among younger children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

As of today there are 1,161 active cases associated with schools and child-care centres, accounting for nearly 39 per cent of all active cases in Ontario.