Sask.'s top doctor says high COVID-19 vaccine uptake will protect children under 12

High community vaccine uptake is going to be key to protecting children ineligible for a COVID-19 shot as Saskatchewan begins to reopen.

"Children 11 and under are not independently mobile, so obviously if the vaccination rate is high in parents, families and friends, that indirectly protects children under 11," Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said during Tuesday’s provincial update.

Saskatchewan’s reopening plan is predicated on strong vaccine uptake in people 12 and over. Most public health measures, including the mask mandate, will be removed when 70 per cent of residents 12 and over have their first dose.

Claire Allen and her family, which includes two kids under 12, have stayed close to home throughout the pandemic, but as the province opens up, they’re venturing out more.

"We’ve been inside for a long time abiding by the regulations and I think it’s time to open up," she said.

Allen is receiving her first dose of the vaccine next week and she’s confident that high vaccine uptake in the community will keep her family safe.

"I feel like the majority of people who are eligible to get vaccinated are getting vaccinated and I feel like people are still abiding by the precautions," she said.

To date, 25 per cent of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 cases have been in people 19 and under.

Across Canada, that age group has accounted for 19 per cent of cases, but only 1.8 per cent of hospitalizations.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Alexander Wong said with the virus still spreading in the community, the risk remains as the province reopens.

"It’s those indoor, poorly ventilated, tight quarter spaces, where we know transmission risk is highest and so honestly, it still makes sense to look at continuing to mask in those types of settings, whether you’re an adult or a kid," he said.

As restrictions are loosened and removed, Dr. Wong said it will be up to the individual to evaluate the level of risk that they’re willing to take.

"There's probably going to be a decent proportion, or subset, of people and their families who choose just to continue to mask, especially in indoor public spaces," he said.

Trials are currently underway into the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in children under 12, but approval isn’t expected until late summer or the fall. Until then Dr. Wong recommends people remain cautious.