By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Not enough Canadian children are being vaccinated against COVID-19 at a time when the Omicron variant threatens to swamp healthcare systems, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
As of Jan. 1, 87.6% of Canadians above the age of 12 had received two shots. But among those aged from 5 to 12, that number dipped to just 2%, with 45.6% having received one dose.
"Almost half of kids across this country have gotten their vaccine. ... We need to get more, so please ask your parents if you can get vaccinated," Trudeau said, addressing children directly during a regular briefing.
Schools in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which together account for around 61% of Canada's total population of 38.4 million, are teaching virtually, but children are due to return to classrooms on Jan. 17.
"There is more we can do and more we will do," Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce told reporters, announcing that the province would set up special vaccine clinics in schools to increase the number of children being inoculated.
It will also distribute rapid tests for use when students show signs of COVID-19.
Last week Trudeau said Canadians were angry and frustrated by people who were not vaccinated, but on Wednesday he reverted to his more familiar tactic of cajoling the reluctant.
Inoculations support those "who are at risk of seeing important surgeries and treatments canceled because our health systems are getting overrun," he said.
Trudeau, however, sidestepped questions about Quebec's plans to force adults refusing to get COVID-19 jabs to pay a "health contribution," saying he needed more details.
The western province of Saskatchewan said it was extending public health measures such as requiring people to show vaccine passports and wear masks indoors until end-February. They had been due to expire on Jan. 31.
(Additional reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)