'It's about time': Waterloo Region educators, parents react to new vaccine policies
As the start of the school year fast approaches, Ontario announced new measures on Tuesday to ramp up safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among them, any child born in 2009 is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, and education workers will be required to be tested frequently if they aren't vaccinated.
The vaccine policy shift comes as good news for 11-year-old Amelia Fischer, who no longer has to wait for her birthday in November to get the shot.
"It's about time, it's been a lot of back-and-forth but obviously we're excited for Amelia to have the opportunity to be vaccinated before heading back into school," said Amelia's mother, Elaine Fischer.
"It gives me a bit more peace that she can sustain going to school and stay healthy."
On Tuesday, Ontario's chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore also announced vaccine policies for high-risk settings, including education workers.
While vaccination won't be mandatory, those who decline vaccination must undertake regular COVID-19 testing.
"We must take assertive action to protect the health of all Ontarians," Dr. Moore said Tuesday. "The policies I am announcing today are an important link in the chain of protection that will help keep Ontario strong in the face of the fourth wave."
The new vaccination policies must be implemented no later than Sept. 7.
School boards in the Waterloo Region did not immediately have details available about how these policies would impact local schools.
"We will be supporting the request of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and trust that it will allow our staff and students to return with a higher level of confidence and a higher degree of safety for all," Waterloo Catholic District School Board education director Loretta Notten said in an email.
"We are awaiting the policy from the ministry of education and will be able to provide details in the coming days," Laura Booth, a spokesperson for the Waterloo Region District School Board, said in an email.
Teachers' unions say they're also left waiting for more information.
"We have yet to hear this translated into direction and policy from the Ministry," said Rob Gascho with Waterloo Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation.
"There are people that can't get vaccinated or won't get vaccinated and what are we going to do with those people," said Patrick Etmanski with Waterloo Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association.
Meanwhile, the union representing elementary teachers remains concerned not just for its members, but for the younger children who still aren't eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
"The reality is we still want to see smaller classroom sizes, we still want to see ventilation to improve and we want to see rapid testing for those who may be unvaccinated but also for students to ensure that when they're coming into the buildings in September everybody is protected and safe," said Jeff Pelic with Waterloo Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario.
The Region of Waterloo confirmed all children born in 2009 would be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine beginning Aug. 18. Vaccination clinics across the region are accepting walk-ins.
Officials say the policy change is expected to apply to "a couple thousand residents" in Waterloo Region.