REGINA — Saskatchewan is expanding its COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to some 11-year-olds as families prepare to send their children back to school next month.
The province said Friday that childrenborn in 2009 — meaning they turn 12 this year — can be vaccinated. Doses are being administered at pop-up clinics, participating pharmacies and school-based vaccination clinics.
Health Canada has not approved any vaccines for children under 12. Saskatchewan's decision follows similar ones in Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.
The province also announced there will not be a mask mandate when students return to classrooms, despite calls from groups representing teachers and doctors for more strict measures.
Saskatchewan has experienced an uptick in COVID-19 infections recently. On Friday, it reported 244 new cases, the highest daily increase since May.
Of those new infections, 75 per cent were in unvaccinated people and five per cent were in those partially vaccinated, the province said.
In a news release, the province said it will recommend anyone who is not vaccinated, including school staff, wear masks in common spaces like hallways, washrooms and on school buses. Masks won't be needed when students are seated at their desks or for outdoor activities such as recess.
The Saskatchewan Medical Association and the Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians earlier this week urged school divisions to reinstate public health measures – including mandatory masks. The call was echoed by the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation.
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said on social media that the Saskatchewan Party government's plan falls short of keeping kids and school staff safe.
"The minister needs to do his job, create a real plan for masking (and) mandatory staff vaccination," said the NDP leader.
The province is planning a pilot project for self-administered rapid tests through school divisions for families who want to screen for COVID-19 infections on an ongoing basis.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2021.
The Canadian Press