The vaccination campaign for five- to 11-year-old children is officially underway. Parents can now book appointments through the Clic-Santé portal, and the first doses of the Health Canada approved Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine will start being administered on Wednesday morning.
During a press conference Tuesday evening, Premier François Legault sympathized with parents facing the decision whether to vaccinate their young children, saying it was “a personal choice,” and that they should not feel pressured. At the same time, he clearly tied the vaccination of 650,000 children between the ages of five and 11 across the province with the possible lifting of emergency measures.
Legault was careful to point out that the pediatric dose, which contains about one-third the amount of the adult version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, was designed for children and extensively tested. “It is not for nothing that the vaccine for children came out after the vaccine for adults and teens,” he noted, while emphasizing that the injection was found to be very safe.
The Premier said that while the risks associated with COVID-19 are not as high for children, there have been rare cases of long-term health effects. He explained that along with their protection, there were several advantages to vaccinating children, including reductions in the number of outbreaks and classroom closures in schools as well as the possibility of hugging grandparents over the holidays without worrying about spreading the virus.
The first doses of the vaccine arrived in Canada on Sunday night and will be administered quickly. Quebec quietly opened the Clic-Santé platform for parents to reserve appointments on Tuesday morning, and by mid-afternoon over 80,000 slots had been booked. Legault confirmed the campaign will roll out in schools as early as next week while insisting that children will not be vaccinated at school without written consent from their parents.
New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) director general Rob Buttars says they are ready, and plans are in place in partnership with the Montérégie-Ouest Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSSMO). Students in the Chateauguay area will be bused to a vaccination centre in Mercier, while mobile vaccination clinics will be set up in the different schools across the Valley. Students in Valleyfield will walk to the vaccination centre located almost directly across the street from the school. Similar plans are in motion at the Centre de services scolaire de la Vallée-des-Tisserands.
“I think a large percentage of our parents will take advantage of this,” says Buttars, who notes a recent survey sent to parents suggests around 20 per cent would be interested in having their children vaccinated through the schools. A majority would prefer to take their children to vaccination centres themselves, while some parents remain uncertain.
Legault maintained during the press conference that he did not want unvaccinated children or parents to feel stigmatized, saying this was why the government was not setting a target percentage for vaccinations as it had with all other age cohorts. The vaccine passport will also not be required for children under the age of 12.
“We want to have the highest percentage possible,” said Health Minister Christian Dubé of the province’s goal for vaccinating children, suggesting the government had been uncertain of the response earlier this year to vaccinate 12- to 17-year-olds. Around 95 per cent of that age cohort has now received a first dose, he confirmed, saying, “I think we can be optimistic that it will go well with the five- to 11-year-olds also.”
Legault said there was enough vaccine to offer a first dose to all children in the five-to-11 age group before the start of the holidays; however, he refused to make any prediction as to the lifting of any further measures in time for Christmas. Case numbers are climbing in the province, he acknowledged, saying it was even more important that people continue to abide by the measures currently in place.
Case numbers on the upswing
The number of cases has risen across the Valley and the surrounding areas as well, with eight cases reported in the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent, 15 in the MRD des Jardins-de-Napierville, 36 in the MRC de Beauharnois-Salaberry, and 37 in the MRC de Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Currently, there are 60 outbreaks in the Montérégie, more than half of which are in school environments.
“Touch on wood, we have only had a few cases,” says Buttars, who confirms a case reported at Heritage Elementary School this week resulted in the preventive closure of a pre-kindergarten class. He says around 12 to 15 rapid COVID tests are being used per week within local elementary schools, while no preventive gargle tests have been required.
Just under 80 per cent of the population included in the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network has been adequately vaccinated, with rates amongst those aged 40 years and under sitting a full ten per cent below those in neighbouring municipalities. According to Dubé, at least 2,000 Quebecers per day are still rolling up their sleeves for their first dose. The Clic-Santé portal remains open to all those looking to book an appointment. Information on the vaccine for adults as well as the pediatric dose is available in both languages on the government’s website, Quebec.ca.