Ontario is opening COVID-19 vaccine appointments for children aged six months to five years old next week and extending the program for three paid sick days until March 2023 as the seventh wave continues with more hospitalizations and deaths.
The province reported 62 new deaths linked to COVID-19 this week, up from 39 the week before. There are now 1,483 people in hospital with the virus and 126 requiring intensive care. Those figures are up from 985 and 118 at the same time last week.
Test positivity on Thursday was 15 per cent, with just over 14,000 tests completed.
With vaccines opening to children under 5, parents and caregivers will be able to book a spot for their children through the provincial portal as of 8 a.m. ET on July 28. At that same time, immunocompromised youth aged 12 to 17 will be able to book appointments for their second booster shot, if at least six months have passed since their first.
"The approval of a lower dose pediatric Moderna vaccine will give families the opportunity to provide an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 for the youngest members of their families," said Minister of Health Sylvia Jones in a news release.
Health Canada approved Moderna's vaccine for infants and pre-schoolers earlier this month.
COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals and ICUs
Doses are currently being shipped across Ontario, the ministry of health said, and will be available through public health unit clinics, as well as participating pediatricians, primary care providers and pharmacies.
Parents and caregivers with questions about the vaccine are encouraged to speak with their primary care providers or call the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943-3900. They can also use the COVID-19 Vaccine Consult Service to speak to a registered nurse at SickKids.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, also encouraged parents and caregivers to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19, particularly if they have any underlying health issues.
"Although most children who get infected have no symptoms or mild symptoms, some can become very sick and require hospitalization. The vaccine offered to children aged six months to under five years is a lower dose that is safe and effective at protecting this age group from COVID-19," Moore said in the news release.
COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations on the rise
The news comes as Ontario's weekly COVID-19 case numbers rose by 28 per cent from July 10 to 16 among those eligible for testing, according to the latest epidemiological summary from Public Health Ontario.
Hospital admissions continued to rise over the same period, growing to 405 from 325 the week before — in line with the trend of rising admissions since the start of the seventh wave.
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Settings reporting the largest increases in outbreaks during the week of July 10 include hospitals (79 per cent) and group homes/supportive housing, which saw a 104 per cent increase. Outbreaks in high-risk settings grew by 31 per cent, the report notes.
Meanwhile, case rates increased among every age group in Ontario, with those 80 and older seeing case rates several times higher than other brackets, jumping 56 per cent from the week before.
Confirmed cases of the illness increased in 32 of Ontario's 34 public health units, the report notes, with the North West region seeing case rates approximately three times higher than other regions.
Paid sick days extended
Meanwhile, the Ontario government is extending its paid sick leave program until the end of March, allowing residents who miss work due to COVID-19 to have three days off.
The program had been set to expire at the end of this month.
Premier Doug Ford's government first announced the temporary sick leave plan in the spring of 2021.
That came after the province faced sharp calls to bring in such a policy to minimize workplace spread of COVID-19.
Opposition parties and other critics have been calling for the government to expand the program by offering more days.
Under the current program, eligible workers can receive up to $200 a day for up to three days if they need to get tested, vaccinated, self-isolate or care for a family member with COVID-19.