Toronto’s top doctor is expressing optimism that Health Canada will approve the Pfizer vaccine for use in children as young as five in “the coming weeks” and when it does she says that the city will be ready to roll out a “multi-pronged campaign” focused on ensuring as many school-aged children get vaccinated as possible.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa made the comment during a briefing on Wednesday as she discussed the launch of a new toolkit that will provide parents with information about the vaccine and its potential side effects, as well as tips on how to address the importance of vaccination with their children.

The city is also planning several town halls and information sessions for parents that will be held in the coming weeks.

“It is widely believed that children do not experience COVID-19 illness the same way as adults. Typically, this is true, but it is not guaranteed. Alberta Health recently released figures showing the ICU admissions of children's sick with COVID-19 in Alberta have increased by 23 per cent. This is the reality with COVID-19. If you give it the opportunity and you are not protected the virus will seize that opportunity to infect, whether you are younger or older,” de Villa said. “So if you have a child who will become eligible for vaccination in the coming weeks please get them vaccinated. You are protecting them, you are protecting your family and yourself and you are protecting grandparents and elders who could become sick and be at risk.”

Pfizer officially asked Health Canada to approve their vaccine for use in children aged five to 11 earlier this week, though it remains unclear how soon emergency use authorization could come.

De Villa said that the city has been planning for the administration of vaccines to younger children for several weeks now and is focused right now on making sure that parents “have information to support conversations and decision making within their own homes.”

But she said that once the vaccine is approved for use in the age cohort the city will quickly make it available through as “many channels as possible,” including school-based clinics.

“There are active conversations happening with our school board partners and schools themselves. Some are quite open to the possibility of clinics during the day and part of this depends on what the physical layout and logistics of the school might be. Others have indicated that their preference for their unique circumstances and the needs of their community will look more like clinics in the after school hours,” she said. “So it will be a variable but it's not just about school-based clinics. We've talked about clinics that are available at doctor’s offices, vaccine being made available through pharmacies, certainly through our mass immunization clinics and through community based and or mobile clinics as well.”

More than 100 new school-related cases

The city’s efforts to plan for the ultimate rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to the roughly 200,000 Toronto children between the ages of five and 11 come as Ontario’s school continue to report dozens of new lab-confirmed infections each day.

The Ministry of Education says that there were 107 new school-related cases confirmed over a 24-hour period ending Tuesday afternoon, including 85 student cases and 22 staff cases.

The rolling seven-day average now stands at 82, down from 90 at this point last week and 122 the week prior.

With the latest cases there are now 1,148 active lab-confirmed infections associated with Ontario’s school system, accounting for roughly one-third of Ontario’s overall caseload.

It is the lowest that number has been since Sept. 21.

The number of schools with at least one active case is also declining and now stands at 592. At this time last week there were 704 schools with at least one active case.

Meanwhile, Etobicoke’s Greenholme Junior Middle School is currently the only school in Ontario that is closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak after as many as nine schools were shut last week.

It should be noted that a count by CP24 reveals that there are at least 137 individual classroom cohorts in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) that have been switched to remote learning due to a positive case.

The total number of cases associated with schools since the beginning of the academic year also remains well ahead of the pace that the province saw at this point in 2020 – 3,899 versus 1,569.

But unlike in October, 2020 cases now appear to be on the decline after rising quickly during the first few weeks of September.

Schools, however, still account for a disproportionate number of all outbreaks.

Of the 40 outbreaks currently being reported by Toronto Public Health as of today, more than half are either in child care centres (two) or schools (19).

Toronto Public Health says that it also has 99 active investigations underway in schools.