Quebec schools to bus students 12 and up to COVID-19 vaccine centres in June

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MONTREAL — Quebec students between the ages of 12 and 17 will be bused to COVID-19 vaccine centres or given shots at school over two weeks in June, the province's health minister announced Thursday.

Christian Dubé unveiled the province's plan to fully vaccinate young people with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before school returns in the fall. Health Canada this month approved that vaccine for ages 12 and up, and Dubé said the vaccine is highly effective in young people.

Under the plan, children 12 and up can also begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines with their families as of Friday at Montreal's two drive-thru sites and make appointments at mass vaccine sites as of May 25. Evening and weekend slots will be set aside for families with children.

The school vaccine program will take place the weeks of June 7 and 14 and will follow a "hybrid" model, Dubé said, that could include sending mobile vaccine clinics to schools or transporting students to nearby vaccine centres, depending on the region.

The government hopes to vaccinate everyone between the ages of 12 and 17 with one dose by June 23 and give them both doses by the time school returns at the end of the summer, Dubé said.

Dubé, who was accompanied by Education Minister Jean-François Roberge and Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann, stressed that vaccinating a large part of the population with two doses will be key to having a more normal school year.

"This is what will allow us to start the 2021-22 school year on the right foot for everyone, parents and students alike," he said.

Dubé said there are still 360,000 people in the 18 to 44 age group who have not made appointments to be vaccinated, and he urged them to sign up before the youth campaign gets underway.

McCann said it's important that 75 per cent of the population gets vaccinated in order to allow students to return to campus in the fall.

"Our students have suffered from isolation a lot in the last year and a half, and this is the key," she said. "Vaccination is the key to return on the campus in September." However, Dubé and McCann said it was not yet clear whether students would have to wear masks come September, saying the decision would be made at a later date.

Roberge, for his part, promised to release guidelines for graduation ceremonies in the coming days.

Children under the age of 14 need parental permission for a vaccine, while those 14 and over can decide on their own. There are about 530,000 people in the 12-to-17 age group in Quebec, representing about six per cent of the population.

Dubé said the province hopes to finish giving second doses in August.

Earlier Thursday, Quebec reported 662 new cases of COVID-19 and eight more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including one in the past 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by six, to 460, while the number of people in intensive care also fell by six, to 107.

The province said it administered 89,551 vaccine doses on Wednesday and has given at least one dose to 51.4 per cent of the population.

The Health Department also announced that people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine outside the province can register to receive an electronic proof of vaccination and make an appointment for a second dose if they are not yet fully vaccinated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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