Ottawa’s medical officer of health says there are plans in the works for a new COVID-19 vaccination site that could see booster shots prioritized for teachers and other education workers in the weeks ahead.
Dr. Vera Etches told reporters Tuesday that a new “point of access” for boosters is “hopefully” being set up this week in partnership with Kids Come First, a group of pediatric care providers in Ontario including Ottawa’s CHEO hospital.
Details were limited on Tuesday, but Etches said the new site would support Ottawa Public Health’s goal of providing booster shots for education workers.
Etches said OPH is meanwhile “on track” to provide a booster dose to anyone who wants one before the end of January.
Ontario health officials announced the online learning shift on Monday and promised resources such as N95 masks and advanced HEPA air filters would be provided to schools when in-person classes resume, currently set for Jan. 17 at the earliest.
Etches said Tuesday that the province’s restrictions on gatherings and shuttering indoor dining and recreation activities were “appropriate” given Ontario’s projections of how the ongoing Omicron surge could affect hospital capacity, but expressed some difference of opinion when it came to keeping schools closed.
“I gave my professional opinion that I don’t think opening schools worsens the transmission significantly based on our previous experience in the pandemic, but I know this was a very hard decision to make,” she said.
Etches has long been an advocate of keeping schools open during the pandemic, championing school’s social and safety benefits to kids’ well-being and noting Tuesday that it’s a “controlled” environment when it comes to COVID-19 transmission.
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“We think they can open as soon as possible,” she said.
Ottawa’s top doctor added Tuesday that now is a good time for parents of kids aged five to 11 to book first doses for their children during the temporary halt to in-person learning.
Citing South Africa’s experience with Omicron, where a rapid rise and decline of cases was seen over a roughly two-month span, Etches said it’s possible the current wave recedes in February, but it’s too soon to say for sure without real-world experience from populations closer to Canada’s.
Around that time, however, kids aged five to 11 in Ottawa would also start getting protection from their second doses of the vaccine.
While vaccinations have not been shown to effectively stop infections or transmission of the Omicron variant, Etches said the vaccine continues to reduce severe cases and hospitalization related to COVID-19.
“I think we should end up, after this wave — we expect the peak to come near the end of January — we should end up in a place with more immunity across the board, being able to get back to the things that we need,” she said.