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Ontario top doc calls for vaccine push among young people ahead of school return


TORONTO — Ontario's top doctor is calling for all eligible people -- especially young adults and teens -- to get vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of the planned return to schools in September. 

Dr. Kieran Moore noted on Tuesday that classes in Ontario schools, as well as many colleges and universities, are due to pick up in less than two months, with the goal of holding more classes and extracurriculars in person. 

People will need to have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine before the start of the school year to be fully protected, and Moore noted that vaccine uptake is lower among young people than older Ontarians.

"They are the most social, they're the most able to propagate the virus back into the communities," Moore said of the high school and college-aged demographic. 

He pointed to the situation in England, where the virus is rapidly spreading among young, unvaccinated people, and said Ontario is also seeing "gaps" among younger adults when it comes to vaccine uptake. 

"Time is of the essence now as our schools are planning to reopen fully in the fall," Moore said.

Moore said approximately 83 per cent of COVID-19 cases reported between May 15 and June 12 were among unvaccinated people, 15 per cent were partially vaccinated and just over one per cent were fully vaccinated.

In Ontario, 78 per cent of Ontario adults have at least one dose of a vaccine and 46 per cent are fully vaccinated. 

Vaccination coverage is higher among older Ontarians and the rate lags slightly behind when it comes to young adults. 

Sixty-eight per cent of the population aged 18 to 29 has received their first dose and 66 per cent of youth aged 12 to 17 have their first shots.

Moore's "call for arms," as he described it, came a day after the province started offering Ontarians aged 12 and older the option of scheduling a second COVID-19 vaccine dose at an interval shorter than four months. 

That means everyone eligible for vaccination in the province can now receive their shots as soon as four weeks apart, depending on the vaccine type and if supply allows. 

Widespread vaccination is a key aspect of Ontario's plan to resume in-class learning in the fall -- though full details of the plan haven't been shared. The province has promised that all students and education workers would be offered two shots before September and youth-focused clinics were run last month and into this week to get young people vaccinated.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said this week that high vaccination rates in the community will help keep transmission down and protect students under age 12, for whom no vaccines have currently been approved in Canada, when classes resume.

Moore said the province saw interest in vaccination drop slightly after the long weekend and it aims to sustain its messaging about vaccination.

Ontario reported 164 new COVID-19 cases and nine deaths from the virus on Tuesday, as well as 80 previously uncounted cases from 2020. 

Public health restrictions on businesses and gatherings have gradually been rolling back in light of the positive public health trends, but Moore said the picture can change quickly. 

"To sustain our progress, we need to see continued improvement in vaccinations through the summer and into the fall," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 6, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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