'It will still be safe,' Expert says non-vaccinated kids under 12 should return to school

The province's advanced COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which now includes children 12 to 17, is one step closer to getting students back in classrooms this fall, according to Dr. Sohail Gandhi, the former president of the Ontario Medical Association.

"It's positive news. Our children desperately need to get back into school. They need to get back into social environments. They need to get back into after-school activities," said Dr. Gandhi.

Despite no vaccine being available to kids under 12, Dr. Gandhi believes it's okay for parents to send them back to in-person learning.

"We know they are far, far less likely to transmit the disease when they're under the age of 12. So I do believe it will still be safe for them to return to school in September even though they haven't been vaccinated yet."

Dr. Gandhi also touched on adults who have not received their first dose. He said to slow the transmission of COVID-19, a minimum of 75 per cent of the overall population must be fully vaccinated.

"It's really only then can we look at going back to completely normal," said Dr. Gandhi.

He believes that the benchmark could be accomplished in late fall.

"We have a lot of work to do to combat vaccine hesitancy that's still out there. There's, unfortunately, some misinformation about how the vaccines work and how they were developed," said Dr. Gandhi.

He urges anyone hesitant about getting vaccinated to go to reputable websites where vaccine information is available in 30 different languages.

In recent weeks, countries worldwide have reported an increase in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant.

Dr. Gandhi said he is closely watching the hospitalization and intensive care unit admission rates in those countries.

He said what's being shown is that fully vaccinated people have a low chance of winding up in a hospital or ICU.

"You'll get a very mild case at best, and you'll be over it," said Dr. Gandhi.

Ontario is nearly a week into Step 2 of reopening, and Dr. Gandhi is hopeful if case numbers remain low, the province will near Step 3.

"There's been so many times here we have had to take a step backwards after taking a step forward over the last 16 months, but if the trends continue like they are continuing, then I do anticipate us going into the next stage on July 20th as planned," said Dr. Gandhi.

A complete list of where to find a COVID-19 Immunization clinic and how to book an appointment is available here.