Toronto Star

Peel has a plan to get kids vaccinated

Region looks to replicate success it found in adults and teenagers, but with fun, child-friendly twists

- MEGAN OGILVIE

When it comes to vaccinatin­g young children — the next biggest challenge against COVID-19 — Peel is hoping to find success by following a familiar playbook.

Peel’s strategy will mirror its success in vaccinatin­g the region’s teens and adults by offering a mix of locations to get immunized, including mass clinics, community and school-based clinics and using its two mobile Vax Vans, said Paul Sharma, co-lead of the COVID-19 vaccinatio­n program at Peel Public Health.

As of Wednesday, about 89 per cent of Peel’s residents aged 12 and older have received their first shot and about 86 per cent have had two doses. Currently, the region has an infection rate lower than many other public health units.

This is in stark contrast to Peel’s startlingl­y high infection rates during the pandemic’s second and third waves when hospitals in the region were being flooded with severely ill COVID patients.

As COVID-19 vaccines rolled out through the summer, going into more arms as different groups became eligible, Sharma said Peel Public Health quickly adapted to the community’s needs by opening immunizati­on clinics in specific neighbourh­oods and in locations residents felt safe, such as schools, community centres and places of worship.

“We have to make it convenient for people,” he said. “Our goal is for kids to at least have their first dose by the time they go back to school because we want to keep schools open.”

Since the summer, kids aged five to 11 have been the age group in the region with the highest COVID-19 infection rates.

At this point in the pandemic, children are the largest unvaccinat­ed group with many contacts outside their household, and getting shots into little arms will help limit COVID transmissi­on both in schools and at home, Sharma said.

Being immunized will also help make kids and families feel comfortabl­e doing typical kid things, including sports, going to birthday parties and hugging grandparen­ts, he said.

Peel is opening vaccine appointmen­ts for kids starting Friday. Officials hope to ease children’s fear with its Super Kids campaign that includes special superhero-themed signs, stickers and other kid-friendly materials in its community, mobile and school-based immunizati­on clinics.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel’s medical officer of health, says the region’s smallest residents have been some of the biggest heroes of the pandemic.

“It’s not been easy for anyone,” Loh said. “But kids in particular have dealt with so many disruption­s to their day-to-day life, the things that make being a kid, a kid. We’ve asked them to do so much; they’ve been little superheroe­s throughout this whole thing.

“And now that the vaccine is here, we’re asking them once again to step up and do their part.”

Loh invited a famous superhero to explain why it’s important to be protected from COVID, knowing stickers and colouring sheets might not be enough to lure some reluctant kids to get the shot.

“The first thing (Brampton) Batman told me is that he’s vaccinated,” said Loh, referencin­g a short video released by Peel Public Health that shows the caped crusader touring a vaccine clinic and urging kids to get immunized.

“He also said he thinks it’s important for us to be taking care of each other, for doing our part to get vaccinated so we can stay safe and keep our community safe.”

 ?? R.J. JOHNSTON TORONTO STAR ?? Two of Peel Public Health’s mobile vaccine clinics — the Vax Vans — will go out into the community to help immunize children.
R.J. JOHNSTON TORONTO STAR Two of Peel Public Health’s mobile vaccine clinics — the Vax Vans — will go out into the community to help immunize children.

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