Ontario youth will have the option to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the end of the month, the province announced Thursday.
Premier Doug Ford said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be available to youth ages 12 to 17 beginning the week of May 31.
"Expanding vaccines to youth 12 and up will bring us one step closer to normalcy for our students," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a media release.
One Grade 11 student in Windsor-Essex said he's pretty excited.
"It's a huge relief, and it's a great sign moving forward," said Rishi Naidu, 17, who attends Vincent Massey Secondary School.
Health Canada approved the Pfizer vaccine for youth ages 12 to 15 on May 5. The product had already been greenlit for those 16 and up, but in Windsor-Essex, only those 18 and older have been eligible to date.
In this region, which uses its own vaccine appointment booking system rather than the provincial online platform, the public health unit has yet to announce the details of the youth vaccine rollout or when exactly students will become eligible.
But Windsor-Essex County Health Unit CEO Theresa Marentette said at a press conference prior to the provincial announcement that the health unit had been directed to co-ordinate with school boards on a vaccination plan.
In total, close to 24,000 people in that age group that would be eligible, she said.
Erin Roy, district 9 president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, welcomed the news that in addition to teachers and staff, students will soon be able to gain protection from COVID-19.
"If we're getting them sooner rather than later, then that's great news," she said.
No word on school resuming
Meanwhile, there was no decision from the province Thursday on when or if the school year can resume in person. With some exceptions, students have been learning from home since April. The province's chief medical officer of health said talks are ongoing.
The news that in-classroom learning isn't returning wasn't a surprise to Naidu. It's a disappointment for some, however.
"Especially for high schoolers who are looking forward to getting back to high school, doing all the stuff that you want to do, like the proms and all that. It's taking a toll on mental health, that goes without question."
Naidu launched a student survey earlier this year that found that for the overwhelming majority of those who responded — nearly 90 per cent — the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.