Youth soon required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at Lambton County sports facilities

Point Edward Memorial Arena (Photo Courtesy of Tourism Sarnia-Lambton)

A vaccine mandate will soon come into effect for anyone 12 and older attending a sport and recreational fitness facility in the County of Lambton.

Lambton Public Health introduced additional requirements on Tuesday, which build upon current provincial regulations.

As stated by the province, individuals under the age of 18 entering indoor sports or recreation facilities solely to participate in an organized sport do not need to show proof of vaccination.

“There’s no reason why a 17-year-old who’s performing a particular activity in a setting to be exempt from the requirements that an 18-year-old is subjected to,” said Lambton Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sudit Ranade.

Starting October 31, those 12 and up entering a sport and recreation facility in Lambton County must show proof of a first vaccine dose. Proof of full vaccination will be required by November 30. Full vaccination is specified as an individual having two doses and a 14 day wait period after the second dose.

Ranade said some other reasons considered in making this decision were increased use of indoor facilities during colder months and what’s being implemented in other regions.

“Because our neighbours are doing it, what we definitely want to avoid is the rink shopping phenomenon which is the idea where largely unvaccinated [people] will choose to move to other facilities that do not have the same requirements resulting in the potential for increased transmission events,” he said.

“We know that by and large, 12 year olds spread the disease in the same way that 22-year-olds [do]. It’s different when you get down into the under 10s. There’s evidence that kids under 10 really don’t spread the disease in the same way — not that they don’t at all. Certainly, for this older adolescent group, the risks are very much the same.”

As stated in a media release, the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Lambton County is seven times higher for people who are unvaccinated. People over the age of 60 who are unvaccinated are also 28.4 times more likely to become hospitalized than vaccinated individuals.

The health unit issued a letter of instruction to facility owners and operators on Tuesday surrounding the vaccine requirement. The letter applies to coaches, volunteers, and spectators 12 and up. Ranade said in some ways, it may be easier for operators who have to enforce a vaccine mandate anyways for people over the age of 18.

“They don’t have to actually worry about if you’re 12 to 18 these are the rules, if you’re 18 plus these are the rules, if you’re 12 and under these are the rules. So it helps to streamline that in a way,” he said.

Dr. Ranade told Sue Storr on CHOK (103.9 FM, 1070 AM) Tuesday morning that in order to reach a 90 per cent vaccination rate, stricter measures would need to come into effect.

“That’s going to make [people] upset and that’s going to make them angry and that’s going to make them hurt, and I think we have to do our best to explain why that is happening,” he said. “I think that it’s fairly clear that in this context, we just cannot afford for people to make the choice to be unvaccinated.”

One of the people upset by the vaccine requirement is Warwick Mayor Jackie Rombouts.

“Honestly, it breaks my heart to think that we’re going to be turning kids away from their activities that they love so much and that are good for them,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure that everyone is focused on their overall health and I think that’s why the provincial government made that exemption for the people who are between 12 and 18. They wanted those kids to get out there and be active with their friends. I think we’ve made a mistake with this decision.”

Rombouts also said officials are missing the overall picture.

“If the goal is to keep people out of hospitals because of COVID, we should focus on getting those aged 65-plus vaccinated,” said Rombouts. “These regulations aren’t going to do that.”

As of Tuesday, 84 per cent of eligible Ontarians have been fully vaccinated against the virus. In Lambton County, 79.1 per cent of eligible residents have had two vaccine doses.

“There might be some people who still have questions and want more information but there’s probably a lot more who are just very committed to not doing this. If that’s true, those folks are not going to change their mind without significant reason or consequence to that choice,” said Ranade.

The province lifted capacity limits at indoor sport and recreational facilities, as well as other facilities where proof of vaccination is required, on Monday.

-With files from Josh Boyce