Amid growing calls from teachers, child-care workers, parents and opposition politicians, the Ontario government announced Thursday that it would be accelerating booster shots for school and child-care staff to help protect them and the children they work with from COVID-19.
In a news release, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said starting Friday, child-care and school staff in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area will have "planned access to vaccines" at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont.
He noted the clinic will support priority booking for education staff, including educators, custodial staff, administrative staff, school bus drivers and child-care staff.
"We thank education and child care staff, operators, and all Ontario families for their hard work, vigilance and kindness through this incredibly difficult time," Lecce said.
The release also said that the provincial education and health ministries are working together with an aim of making more rapid-antigen tests available "to support the ongoing operations of child-care centres, and schools when they return to in-person learning."
Ontario announced in late December that it was delaying the return to school for two days and then on Monday said it would be moving learning online for at least two weeks.
A spokeswoman for Lecce did not make him available for an interview Thursday. The minister has not spoken publicly about the decision to move learning online.
In the statement, the minister said the government will work with all other public health units to set up more clinics across Ontario, "in addition to existing vaccine clinics with dedicated access for education and child care staff."
The government said it's also providing optional non-fit-tested N95 masks to all child-care staff and updating screening requirements to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
The province is also providing eligible front-line workers with free emergency child care for their school-aged children. A full list of eligible workers is available on the government's website.
Premier Doug Ford has said the two-week pause on in-person classes would provide “much-needed time" for vaccines and public health measures to blunt soaring daily case counts.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the minister hadn't spoken publicly since the decision to delay the return to school by two days, but in fact he gave two television interviews about it.