COVID-19: Schools, info campaign will be key elements in vaccinating Hamilton’s youth

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Ontario has announced its plan — a plan that’s subject to change — to end mask mandates by March 2022, after other measures like capacity limits and proof-of-vaccination requirements are already gone. But experts say masks should be among the last things to go, even with high vaccination rates – Oct 26, 2021

A suggestion from provincial health advisors to host COVID-19 vaccine clinics in schools is something Hamilton’s medical officer health says could be challenging with many parents wanting to be with their child when they get a shot.

Ontario’s science table has recommended that schools be involved in the inoculation process pending Health Canada’s approval of vaccines for children aged five to 11.

The table said clinics in schools will be key to effectively reach youth populations during the execution of programs through Ontario’s 34 health clinics.

Read more: Ontario reports 321 new COVID-19 cases, 10 more deaths

Hamilton public health has started its deliberations on a city roll, according to Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, who says their “key elements” so far involve a public communication campaign and help from primary care partners and local pharmacists.

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However, Richardson says she’s not sure about the idea of clinics in schools, particularly if it’s during a regular school day.

“The challenge there is then you need to have, of course for this age group, their parents and a number of others,” Richardson said.

“What we’re trying to continue to do is ensure our children are kept safe and going through their school day. We’re just working through exactly where setting those clinics makes sense here in Hamilton.”

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Health Minister Christine Elliott echoed those sentiments, suggesting that might not be ideal, and she expects plans will differ among the health units.

“Not necessarily within school hours, because most parents of children of that age would like to be with their child when they receive the vaccine,” Elliott said in the legislature Tuesday.

“In evenings and weekends, that’s likely to be a major location. Some will be done in primary care as well.”

The director of Ontario’s science table told Global News that the urgency with getting the age group vaccinated lies with the number of resources the province has to deal with youth infections.

Read more: Province aims to add 2,000 more nurses in Ontario’s long term care home sector

Dr. Peter Juni says there are only 93 pediatric intensive care (ICU) beds in the whole province, which most of the time are needed for something other than COVID-19.

He said at present the only way to shield young ones from infection is through monitoring cases in schools and taking precautions to mitigate spread via contact tracing.

Juni suggests with the age group vaccinated, much of that work would be more manageable for the school boards and public health.

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“This then means, after a while, we don’t have to pay that much attention anymore to all the school outbreaks the way we do that right now,” Juni said.

“Right now we are aware we have a non-vaccinated population that are vulnerable, therefore, we need to focus on keeping these school outbreaks to a minimum. Once we have had the opportunity to vaccinate, this game will change a bit.”

Read more: Ontario could see 50,000 education workers fired if COVID-19 vaccines mandated, Lecce says

Since Hamilton’s schools opened in September, the public boards have recorded 303 total combined cases.

In the last 14 days, there have been 27 COVID-19 cases at the boards – 24 involving students.

As of Tuesday, there are three Hamilton schools with ongoing outbreaks: Orchard Park Secondary, Sir Wilfrid Laurier Elementary and Living Hope Christian. Combined the schools have six cases tied to students and just one staffer.

Health Canada is still reviewing data from Pfizer-BioNtech, which submitted a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 this past month.

Pfizer’s data on kids between five and 11 showed a safe and strong immune response from two doses, which are one-third the size given to teens and adults.

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Close to 81% of Hamiltonians aged 12-plus fully vaccinated

As of Tuesday, 80.8 per cent of Hamilton’s 12-plus population have been fully vaccinated while 85 per cent have had at least a single shot.

The city is still behind the provincial average, which checked in at 84.1 per cent fully vaccinated as of Oct. 26 and 88 per cent with first doses.

Hamilton’s numbers put it behind 30 of the 34 health units in terms of second doses administered to residents.

Overall Richardson says the city and province have “good rates” considering the entire vaccine rollout is still a “learning” process and that a year ago estimates suggested it might take two years to manufacture a vaccine for COVID-19.

Read more: Conservative MPs will respect COVID-19 vaccine rule, but challenge House mandate: O’Toole

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“What we’ve learned is the decision for some people is very complex and it can be complex for a few reasons,” Richardson said.

“One reason is that people have lots of things going on in their lives and certain people, you know, have more challenges that they’re trying to meet in terms of keeping a roof over their head.”

As of mid-October, Hamilton still needs to get roughly 29,000 first doses into residents’ arms and another 55,000 second doses to meet the Ford government’s “Last Mile Strategy” goal of 90 per cent fully vaccinated.

Over the last seven days, Hamilton has seen about a 23 per cent drop in its vaccination rate with Sunday recording the largest drop (45.68 per cent) week over week. Just 365 doses were administered compared with Oct. 17 when 672 were put into arms.

The city’s health partners administered 764 vaccine doses on Tuesday, which is off by 27.45 per cent compared with the same day last week when over 1,000 doses were administered, according to city data.

Hamilton's weekly COVID-19 case rates continue to drop

Hamilton’s daily COVID-19 case rate dropped week over week with the seven-day average checking in at 15 as of Tuesday – eight less than what was recorded on Oct. 20.

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The city has 117 active cases, down 15 compared to the reported 132 on Tuesday. Over 34 per cent of Hamilton’s active cases are among those under 30.

Read more: COVID-19 booster shots now recommended for long-term care residents, NACI says

The per cent positivity rate also dropped again week over week to 1.70 per cent from 2.2 per cent. Ontario’s average is 1.4 per cent. Last week Hamilton had the seventh-highest rate among the 34 health units.

There are seven reported outbreaks tied to 26 total cases as of Tuesday. The largest is at the Lean and Fit Elite gym in Ancaster with 12 cases – seven among staff and five among patrons.

One outbreak was closed this week at St. Joe’s nephrology unit at the Charlton Campus. The facility had six cases in an outbreak that lasted 17 days.

Week over week, COVID-19 hospitalizations at the city’s two hospital networks have dropped by five patients, including one ICU case. As of Wednesday, there are 29 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Hamilton with 11 in intensive care.

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