Toronto is setting up school-based clinics to vaccinate education workers, students before returning to class

The city is stepping up efforts to get more education workers and students vaccinated in the coming days to help ensure schools reopen for classroom classes as planned by the province on Jan. 17, Toronto Mayor John Tory said Thursday.

Four vaccination clinics, with appointments specifically for training workers, will be held in two city-run immunization clinics this Sunday and January 16, Tory said at a news conference.

“This effort will help more than 3,500 training workers get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Tory said.

School boards will order training workers for these agreements, according to a city spokesman.

In addition, more than 27 clinics are planned for schools over the next two weeks to help students, their families and education workers get vaccinated. Health teams are working with school boards to offer more clinics in areas where vaccination rates need to be increased, Tory added.

Toronto Public Health is also relocating staff to focus on getting students and teachers vaccinated as soon as possible.

The news comes amid growing concern over the number of children – including newborns – being admitted to hospital with complications due to COVID-19 infections.

At Thursday’s press conference, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto health officer, that it is too early to say whether the increase in infections among children is due to more people being infected with the Omicron variant, or whether the variant has a more serious impact on children than previous strains of the virus, which has been circulating – and mutating – since it was identified in China in December 2019.

“I think that’s what’s not quite fixed yet,” de Villa said, adding that the new variant is only weeks old. “I think there is still a lot for us to understand in relation to the Omicron variant.”

So far, 92 percent of 12-17-year-olds in the city have received their first dose, and 88 percent have received two doses. About 45 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have received their first vaccination and remain a priority, Tory said.

The city’s vaccination capacity has been increased from 400,000 to more than 1.2 million doses per month. City staff are working to add 8,500 new vaccine appointments to the city’s immunization clinics this Sunday and Monday. These new appointments (which are in addition to the 3,500 appointments for trainers) will be available through the provincial booking system starting at 8 on Friday.

Fourth doses at the city’s 10 long-term care homes began Thursday and will continue throughout the week, Tory said.

Staff in urban services that have been closed or scaled down due to the pandemic are being relocated to essential services, starting with vaccination clinics, city-run shelters and long-term care homes.

The Toronto effort is part of a larger push by the Department of Education and the Chief of Health to prioritize vaccines for education staff.

Sources told Star that a large vaccine clinic is also planned at the International Center in Mississauga from Friday, where specific times of the day will be set aside to prioritize training workers.

Similar clinics are to be increased in GTA this week and then “replicated across the province,” a source told Star. “The intention is to start up (Friday), so ideally by the 17th, if schools reopen, all education workers and childcare workers have their next level of vaccination.”

Trade unions and a number of training organizations have called for teachers and school staff to get their boosters quickly so that teaching can resume.

Prime Minister Doug Ford announced the delay in personal learning until at least January 17, saying the province is facing a “tsunami” of COVID cases due to the highly transferable Omicron variant.

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering City Hall and municipal politics for Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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