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Returning to 'normal' safely: Dr. Tam on protecting kids against COVID-19 in schools

As the majority of schools across Canada welcome students back to classes with minimal COVID-19 restrictions this year, parents are being advised not to let their guard down when it comes to protecting children’s health.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said cases of respiratory viruses like COVID-19 and influenza are likely to ramp up again for the fall season, as more people gather inside again. As students prepare to be back in classes, Dr. Tam says it’s important to bring a sense of normalcy to kids even though the pandemic is not over.

“We want as little disruption as possible to make things as normal as before, but the pandemic is still with us,” Dr. Tam told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

While some schools across Canada are still providing remote learning as an option, the majority are focusing on a return to in-class learning. At the same time, most schools have loosened their COVID-19 restrictions including dropping the requirement to wear a face mask.

With the COVID-19 vaccine becoming available to children as young as six months old, Dr. Tam says getting vaccinated is the first layer of recommended protection, especially for those who have yet to receive a single dose. According to Health Canada, 42 per cent of children aged 5 to 11 have received two doses of the vaccine, a rate that’s significantly lower than older age groups.

Dr. Tam says one of the two main concerns she hears from parents who may be hesitant to vaccinate their young children is fear over giving their children too many shots.

Initially it was advised to leave intervals between multiple vaccinations, in order to monitor for side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. Now Dr. Tam says, in most cases, there are no issues with getting different vaccines in the same time frame.

“Kids do get a range of vaccinations throughout the initial years of life and up to four to six years of age, but they are generally well spaced out; but COVID vaccines can be provided at the same time as needed, depending on your age,” she said.

Now, more than ever, Dr. Tam says it’s important to keep children up to date with their vaccines given the recent reports of a meningitis outbreak.

Parents may also see the COVID-19 vaccine as unnecessary, Dr. Tam says, since most cases involving children show signs of mild illness. Although children ending up in hospital or in the ICU is rare, the vaccine can help further reduce the risk, she says.

Additionally, face masks shouldn’t be completely discarded if some children feel more comfortable using them; especially those with pre-existing health conditions.

“I think in a classroom we have to be respectful of the fact that there are diverse student populations. Some kids might have underlying medical conditions; they may want to wear masks just to add a layer of protection and others may want to wear masks just to protect each other,” she said.


With the announcement of the federal government purchasing millions of doses of Omicron-specific boosters from Pfizer and Moderna, Dr. Tam says Canadians can expect to hear further updates on this very soon.

The booster, comprising both the original strain and the Omicron strain, is designed to provide additional protection against emerging COVID-19 variants and strengthen the immunity of those who already received two doses.

According to Dr. Tam, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is also looking into providing these boosters to adolescents and kids.

“I do think that we should expect Health Canada to finish their review very soon and we do have enough supplies,” she said.

“Initially, these vaccinations were targeted for adults, but I think our National Advisory Committee on Immunization is also looking at the possibility of providing these boosters to adolescents or kids.”

Over the summer Dr. Tam said virus activity was higher than expected mainly due to rising cases and hospitalizations driven by Omicron and its subvariant, BA. 5.

“It’s not coming down fast so we're still watching that. We hope that it will come down further before an increase in activity in the fall,” she said. Top Stories

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