Push to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations in schools grows with approval for 5-11 year old kids expected by the end of the year

While Canada is likely still several weeks away from rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine for kids between 5 and 11, there are growing calls already to add the COVID-19 shot to the list of mandatory immunizations in schools.

There is no firm date yet, but with a Health Canada review underway for a vaccine safe for children, it's expected they'll be rolling up their sleeves before the end of the year.

"We're at the state where most public health units are already well into planning for administering these vaccines," said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases physician.

"This vaccine will help reduce transmission and viral loads in kids, big improvement and big step forward," added Dr. Ronald St.  John, former federal manager to the SARS response in Canada.

The Pfizer formula could get the green light as early as mid-November but experts say the uptake will be critical to a successful inoculation campaign of younger Canadians.

"There's probably about 25 per cent of people who will likely get vaccinated but still have questions or wanna see more time before they get vaccinated and then, of course, there's going to be people who choose to not get their kids vaccinated," said Dr. Bogoch.

With projections of a November authorization, there are calls already to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of mandatory immunizations in Ontario's schools.

In a letter to the province, the Ontario Public School Board's Association said, "We encourage the government to move forward on making this important change as soon as possible."

Locally, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board sent its own letter, making the same request. 

"For the past 18 months, the impact of COVID-19 has affected the safety and wellbeing of Ontario students and their families as well as their access to education, to devastating effect," said the letter from the OCDSB.

"I would suggest that we encourage people as much as possible to have their children vaccinated," said Dr. St. John.

"When we talk about mandates it's always a bit of a sticky issue, especially with paediatric vaccines. This will likely be on the list of mandated vaccines sometime in the future, it isn't this year," added Dr. Bogoch.

The province has said it won't make the vaccine mandatory yet, instead it will put the emphasis on education and accessibility.

In the capital, Ottawa Public Health continues to push for parents to get their kids immunized as soon as they're eligible.

"With the FDA's acknowledgment that it's safe to use, I think we have to explain to people why that is. The safety profile of this reduced dose by Pfizer is very good," said Dr. St. John.

In the U.S., the Pfizer vaccine for kids has FDA authorization and is now waiting for the CDC to sign off. Its expected shots could be going into children's arms there as early as mid-next week.