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Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he would leave the decision up to parents whether or not they would get their children aged 5 to 11 vaccinated.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he understands parents who are reluctant to have young children vaccinated against COVID-19, as his government reviews plans to immunize kids aged 5 to 11 ahead of Health Canada’s expected approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for this group.

Speaking to reporters at an Ottawa technology-business hub on Tuesday, Mr. Ford said he would leave the decision up to parents. Opposition leaders and health experts have called on the province to add COVID-19 to the existing list of mandatory school vaccinations in Ontario, which includes measles, mumps, polio and chickenpox.

“I am going to leave that up to the parents, when it comes to the five- to 11-year-olds. Do we want to get them vaccinated? Yes. But there are some parents that are vaccinated, they’re a little hesitant at the age of five or six. I get it,” Mr. Ford said. “So let’s do our best. … I also understand if they don’t want to get their five-year-old or six-year-old vaccinated. Do I want everyone to? One hundred per cent.”

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Mr. Ford’s government has faced criticism for failing to release a plan for the vaccination of the province’s children in advance of Health Canada’s approval, with the Opposition NDP warning of a repeat of the scramble that marred the province’s rollout of shots for adults.

Health Minister Christine Elliott told the Legislature on Tuesday that the government is reviewing plans for child vaccinations drawn up by the province’s 34 local public health units.

Vaccine hesitancy around children is expected to be a challenge for public health officials. One recent poll from Angus Reid suggested that only around half of Canadian parents with elementary-school-aged kids would have their children vaccinated immediately. Nearly one in five said they would vaccinate their kids eventually, but not right away.

The Premier also said Tuesday that he had not made a decision on whether to order mandatory vaccinations for health workers, something called for by opposition leaders, the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table and other health experts. Mr. Ford said some hospitals had not yet responded to an open letter he sent on Oct. 15 asking whether a vaccine mandate would result in staff shortages. The letter had requested a response by Oct. 19.

He said he did not want hospitals, particularly in rural and Northern Ontario, to lose staff and fall behind on efforts to tackle backlogged surgeries delayed by the pandemic. He also said he had not yet received estimates on how many health care workers were expected to quit instead of getting the shot. His concerns aren’t only about doctors or nurses leaving but also cleaning staff and other support workers, he added.

“I’m still waiting for answers, to be very frank with you,” Mr. Ford said.

Several major organizations have responded to the Premier’s letter, including the Ontario Hospital Association, which represents all 140 of the province’s public hospitals. Last week it called for the province to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for all hospital staff. The Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario have also called for mandatory health care staff vaccinations.

Mr. Ford also said Tuesday that once Ontario hits a 90-per-cent vaccination rate, it needs to move forward and reopen, but cautiously. (In Ontario, 87.9 per cent of eligible residents older than 12 have at least a first dose, with 83.9 per cent fully vaccinated.) He released a timeline last week that could see rules loosened for nightclubs and other higher-risk businesses in November, with the province’s just-implemented vaccine-certificate requirements phasing out for restaurants as early as mid-January.

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