TORONTO — Ontario parents in the five-to-11 age group may be able to start receiving free vaccines starting as early as next week, the province’s Health Minister says.
Carla Qualtrough told reporters Sunday that a number of key vaccines are being reviewed and that a decision on when they will be made available to Ontario residents will be made in the coming days.
“Parents know if they call, I’m going to listen,” she said, adding that all of the vaccines being reviewed are seasonal flu and have already been approved by Health Canada.
Qualtrough also said she will keep parents updated on the government’s plans, and that plans to launch a vaccination program for kids in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be announced soon.
“I know it’s been a while,” she said. “We’ve put together a team. They’re working really, really hard to try to accelerate all this right now.”
About 250,000 children currently receive the vaccines through private clinics, while an estimated 800,000 receive the shots through the province’s vaccination program for high-risk populations, including children from families with special needs, infants and young kids.
The move to expand the program is part of Ontario’s ongoing push to roll out a new immunization program that will protect children from severe complications associated with preventable diseases.
The new program, which was announced in February, will see children aged 14 months and younger automatically receive the flu shots as part of their shots and give priority to parents applying for public grants through the universal health care funding program.
Children 14 months to 5 years old would get the influenza shot starting at no cost to their families through the universal health care funding program. The move is part of the province’s commitment to ensuring flu shots are available in every child’s at-home immunization at any time of the year.
Qualtrough said the government recently awarded the first contracts to private vaccination clinics, but those permits have yet to be made available.
The Health Canada-regulated vaccine program for children in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will also include diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Hepatitis B, HPV and Hib, a type of vaccine for a bacterial infection that causes severe fevers and pain.
“The kindergarten vaccinations will be an important new element for families of all income levels,” Qualtrough said, noting that up to 35 per cent of Ontario children have not been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
Ontario is one of a handful of provinces that already offer free childhood vaccines, while some, including the federal government, require parental permission or allow exemptions for religious or other private reasons.