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MLHU rescinds COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for 11-year-olds born in 2009

The North London Optimist Community Centre vaccination clinic in London, Ont., on March 17, 2021. Sawyer Bogdan/980 CFPL

UPDATE: Following an announcement from the province, the MLHU says vaccination of 11-year-olds turning 12 this year will resume starting August 18.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit has reversed course less than 24 hours after announcing that it would be extending COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all children born in 2009 and not only those who’ve already turned 12.

In a tweet posted just after 11:30 a.m. on Friday, the health unit said that it would “not be extending COVID-19 vaccination to those who are not yet 12 years old.” The health unit added that more information would be “coming soon.”

Speaking with Global News’ Jess Brady on Let’s Talk London on Friday afternoon, MLHU medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie explained that the decision was at the request of Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

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“The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has not yet approved vaccination for children under 12, even though some provinces have gone forward with vaccinating children whose birthdays are any time in 2009 or earlier,” Mackie explained.

“It’s not currently yet approved by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and on that basis, the Chief Medical Officer requested that we hold on any further vaccinations for children under age 12, which we agreed to do.”

However, Lambton Public Health has been vaccinating children turning 12 in 2021 since it expanded eligibility in May. At that time, the province’s chief medical officer of health was Dr. David Williams. Moore began his tenure on June 26 following Williams’ retirement.

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When asked why the MLHU was asked not to expand vaccination to 11-year-olds turning 12 this year even though Lambton Public Health has been doing so for months, Mackie said “I don’t have a good explanation for that at this point, unfortunately.”

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In an email to Global News on Monday, Kevin Churchill, manager of family health for Lambton Public Health, clarified that the health unit “follows the provincial eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccination registration” but that “if someone presents at one of our clinics on the fringe of the age eligibility, a determination can be made on an individual basis.”

As for the not-yet-12-year-olds who were vaccinated within the short window that the MLHU was offering it, Mackie says they’ll have to wait for their 12th birthday before getting a second shot locally, which could potentially be well beyond the typical 28-day wait between doses.

“Delaying that second shot we know actually makes a positive difference in terms of the long-term immunity. So you may delay acquiring immunity in the short term, but in the long term, it’s actually somewhat beneficial to separate those shots out further.”

Mackie added that he understands the frustration the about-face has caused.

“I completely understand how difficult this must be for kids to have their hopes up to get their vaccine and parents that wanted their children protected. And I wish this had come out in a better way and I apologize to those families and children.”

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