Estimating for vaccination rates in different Toronto schools

With the Ontario government prioritizing the choices of parents on whether to get their children vaccinated, there’s very little information out there about the vaccination rates in schools to help them understand the risks.

Only one health unit in Ontario publicly posts a breakdown of vaccination rates by schools — Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, with figures that range from as high as 82.4 per cent with at least one dose in a public school to as low as 28.4 per cent in a private Christian school.

“Safety has to be number one, and knowing that percentage means they might choose the school or choose online if there’s a lower percentage,” said Linda Rice, outside Kimberley Junior Public School off Main Street in Toronto. “They should be able to do that without violating privacy — it’s just numbers, a percentage of children.”

Toronto is among the majority of health units that don’t publish that data — so CTV News Toronto took a shot at making estimates from neighbourhood-level COVID-19 vaccination rates, and last year’s TDSB enrolment figures, to estimate what the vaccination rates would be for City of Toronto public schools.

Our estimates at secondary schools ranged from about 87 per cent vaccinated with at least one dose in Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute to just 51 per cent at Yorkdale Secondary School.

Among the lower grades, the proportion of children under 12, who are not eligible to be vaccinated, turned out to be the largest predictor of our estimate of a school’s vaccination rates.

That was as high as 48 per cent at King Edward Junior and Senior School to zero for schools with no one eligible.

At a press conference Wednesday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said that students will be required to wear masks from grades 1 to 12, but that life would largely return to normal, allowing clubs and even indoor contact sports.

“I do not anticipate any different approach whether a child is vaccinated or unvaccinated. We would not be knowledgeable of their vaccine status,” Moore said.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said vaccines will not be mandatory for students and school staff who are eligible, despite saying they are the province’s best chance at avoiding a fourth wave.

“The government has made a decision in the context of mandating vaccines, and we’re not doing to do that. We’re going to respect the choices that parents make,” he said.

The government of Ontario’s website describes the law as, “Unless they have a valid exemption, children who attend primary and secondary school must be immunized” against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, whooping cough, and chicken pox.

Parents have to provide proof of their child’s immunization status to your local public health unit and keep immunization up to date.

“Children who do not get immunized are at increased risk of disease,” the website says.

But public health officials said that children can be partially protected if their family members and teachers are vaccinated, and that more widespread vaccination rates are a “cornerstone” of a strategy that also includes common-sense health measures.

“As we head into colder weather, we really need to stick to common sense measures like masking while indoors, and staying home when we’re sick” said Peel Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh. 

The Ontario Education Ministry told CTV News Toronto in a statement that it plans to release more information about what to do in the case of a COVID-19 outbreak at a school.

“In addition to the 2021-22 school year health and safety guidance, the Chief Medical Officer of Health will provide updated guidance for COVID-19 outbreak management in schools. The details are being finalized in consultation with the local public health units and will be released shortly,” the statement said.

Near Kimberley Junior Public School, Janice Fong’s son Aiden said he was excited to return to school in the fall, “because I want to see my friends.”

Fong herself was a bit more cautious, saying, “I hope they have proper protocols to prevent the virus spreading across the schools.”