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A man enters the pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic operated by Toronto East Health Network on Gerrard Street in Toronto on Oct. 25.Evan Buhler/The Canadian Press

Toronto’s COVID-19 vaccination plan for children 5 to 11 will include clinics at schools, doctors’ offices and in the community, with some locations offering “superhero selfie stations.”

Officials announced the plan on Wednesday, in anticipation of Health Canada’s approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, which could come by month’s end. There are about 200,000 children in Toronto between the ages of 5 and 11.

“This campaign is going to be led by Toronto Public Health and is focused on helping kids get vaccinated so they can have the best protection against COVID-19, so that their families can be better protected, and so that schools can be better protected and stay open, perhaps most important of all,” Mayor John Tory told a news conference.

Children under 12 now account for the largest proportion of new infections in the country, according to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam. At a COVID-19 briefing last Friday, Dr. Tam said this age group makes up about 20 per cent of new daily cases, despite representing 12 per cent of the population.

Toronto’s initiative, dubbed Team Toronto Kids, will offer vaccinations at large fixed-site clinics, in hospital- and community-based clinics, at pediatric and family physician practices, in school, and at more than 450 pharmacies across the city.

The first 30 neighbourhoods selected for school-based clinics were chosen based on an analysis of recent COVID-19 case counts, the percentage of low-income residents in the neighbourhood, the proportion of racialized individuals, and the percentage of people living in crowded housing. It also factored in the vaccination rates of 12 to 17 year olds as a proxy for anticipated vaccine uptake in the younger demographic.

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Councillor Joe Cressy, who chairs the city’s board of health, said the strategy builds on the core operating principle to vaccinate the city’s most vulnerable populations as quickly as possible – to “aim the hose where the flames are potentially highest.”

“The minute vaccines are approved for use for five to 11 year olds, every five to 11 year old in our city will be able to book an appointment, and there will be available supply,” he said in an interview. “But we are concentrating enhanced resources into the hardest-hit communities starting on Day 1. So it’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and.”

On the superhero selfie stations, Mr. Cressy said they are as much about creating a positive environment for children as they are about celebrating those who are doing an important civic act by getting vaccinated.

“We’ve helped millions of Torontonians get their shots with DJs, live music, even events that set world records,” he said at the Wednesday news conference. “Getting a vaccine is an act of civic duty – it’s about protecting yourself and your city – but it should also be a celebration. It should be fun.”

Team Toronto Kids will also hold a number of webinars and town halls to answer questions and support vaccination uptake.

Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said last week that once Health Canada has made its decision on pediatric vaccines, the Ontario Immunization Advisory Committee, as well as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, will also review the data.

“We would hope to align with our national counterparts to ensure the rollout is simultaneous across Canada for the five- to 11-year age group and be able to communicate the risks and benefits of vaccination in that age group,” Dr. Moore said.

Mr. Tory noted Wednesday that 84.5 per cent of eligible Torontonians are now fully vaccinated, and almost 88 per cent have had at least one dose. To get closer to the city’s target of 90 per cent, officials will be staging several more “shop and vax” campaigns through the holiday season, beginning with clinics at 15 malls around the city from Nov. 11 to 14.

Some locations will accept walk-ins, others will be by appointment only, and some will also offer third COVID-19 doses and flu vaccines, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, children 5 to 11 in the United States have already begun receiving vaccinations. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 29 authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, which is a two-dose series administered three weeks apart, but at a lower dose (10 micrograms) than that used for people 12 and older (30 micrograms).

On Nov. 2, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed by recommending the vaccine for this age group, noting that the Delta variant caused a surge of COVID-19 cases in children throughout the summer, with hospitalizations among children and adolescents increasing five-fold during a six-week period from late June to mid-August.

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