TORONTO -- Peel Region will allow children as young as 12-years-old to begin booking appointments to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at mass immunization clinics starting today.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown announced the change during his weekly briefing on Wednesday morning, noting that it is “welcome news” in a region that continues to experience high levels of COVID-19 transmission.

The decision to widen eligibility to include children comes just two days after the province announced that it would allow public health units to vaccinate those aged 12 and up at clinics where the Pfizer vaccine is offered.

Currently the Pfizer vaccine is the only one that has been approved by Health Canada for use in individuals under the age of 18.

“This new vaccine coverage for a new age cohort in Peel Region is welcome news and I want to thank public health for adapting so quickly,” Brown said. “The more people we get vaccinated the sooner we're going to get back to normal.”

Peel Region was the first public health unit in the province to open up vaccinations to all adult residents and is also the first to expand eligibility to include all children 12 and up.

Dr. Naveed Mohammad, who is the President and CEO of William Osler Health Systems, told reporters during Wednesday’s briefing that more than 20,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine are now being administered in the region on a daily basis and it is likely that 75 per cent of adult residents will have received at least one shot by sometime next week with that number expected to rise to 85 per cent by the first week of June.

That sort of coverage, he said, could finally start to bring about a real change in the viral picture in Peel that will allow the region to exit the pandemic once and for all.

“Once we get to more than 75 per cent I'm hoping that the number of cases will truly decrease,” he said. “We will still have COVID with us, I think people need to understand that COVID is not going to be gone next June even, we will still have some cases that we will have to manage but the number of cases will become much more manageable and over time we will develop immunity so that we treat it, just as we treat the flu every year.”

Supply issues could surface with expanded eligibility

Most postal codes in Peel were receiving a significant allocation of doses over the last two weeks as the province sent 50 per cent of all shipments to hot spot neighbourhoods.

The province, however, has now returned to a per capita allocation strategy that will see vaccines more evenly distributed across Ontario.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh said while the region does have “significant supply” to administer the vaccine to a larger share of its population at the moment it has asked the province for “flexibility in allocation” so that it can request additional doses if it does “see a need.”

“We do continue to have sufficient supply for the capacity that we have built but that is not going to last,” he warned. “Certainly as we move towards second doses, as we open to 12-year-olds at this point in time our doses are going to go fast.”