OTTAWA -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he is confident the province can reach 90 per cent coverage with COVID-19 vaccines even without approval for children under 12.

Ford made the comments at a funding announcement in Ottawa on Tuesday.

"We're going to hit 90 per cent without the children," the premier said.

Ford noted that 88 per cent of Ontarians 12 and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine; however, there remain approximately 1.5 million eligible adults in Ontario who have yet to be vaccinated. The population of children aged five to 11 in Ontario is around one million.

Pfizer asked Health Canada last week to approve its COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 years old.

Ford said he does want to see children vaccinated, but he also understands some parents may be hesitant.

"I'm going to leave that up to the parents, when it comes to five- to 11-year-olds. Do we want to get them vaccinated? Yes, but there are some parents, that are vaccinated, they're a little hesitant at the age of five or six and I get it," Ford said. "So, let's do our best and get as many people vaccinated and I also understand that they don't want to get their five-year-old or six-year-old vaccinated. Do I want everyone to? One hundred per cent."

One expert, however, believes reaching that 90 per cent vaccination threshold in the province will require the approval of vaccines for children aged five to 11.

Dr. Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says Ontario will need those children to be vaccinated, but he doesn't expect a lot of hesitation.

"There’s so much enthusiasm for vaccination for children that we’re going to get seriously good uptake," he says. "Maybe not 100 per cent, maybe not even 75 per cent, but sufficient uptake that we’ll get to some astonishing levels of community immunity sooner than we think."

According to provincial statistics, 77.5 per cent of children 12 to 17 in the province have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which is slightly higher than the 76.9 per cent of 18-to-29-year-olds who are fully vaccinated.

In Ottawa, specifically, coverage among children 12 to 17 exceeds the provincial average, with 88 per cent fully dosed. Ninety-five per cent of eligible children in Ottawa have at least one dose.

Ford’s visit to Ottawa came the day after the province lifted capacity limits on restaurants, bars and other businesses.

The premier said he hopes this marks the end of the pandemic, but he's still urging residents to be cautious.

"I hope, but no one can predict the end of this," he said. "I wish I could have a magical wand and say, 'Okay, we're going to be done on this date 100 per cent,' but if we get our 90 per cent, we can't wait around for the other 10 per cent. We've got to move. We've got to continue moving and moving cautiously—I emphasize the word three times: cautious, cautious, cautious—because I don't want to go through a repeat of anything."

Deonandan notes that the pandemic, on a global scale, will be with us for some time.

"The epidemic will rage on globally and possibly in parts of this country as well," he said. "So, we’re not out of this crisis, we’ve just managed to deal with it locally a bit better and that means we’re going to need policy levers in place for a long period of time."

The Ford government recently announced a gradual phase-out of COVID-19 restrictions. Capacity limits lifted in bars, restaurants, gyms and casinos on Monday. In three weeks, there will be an additional easing of restrictions in wedding venues and nightclubs. The province has said it aims to start lifting proof-of-vaccination requirements in January if COVID-19 trends aren't too concerning and mask mandates could be gone by March.

Province giving $1.5 million to Kanata tech hub

Ford was in Kanata for the announcement of $1.5 million in provincial funding to the Hub350 technology centre in the Kanata North Business Park.

The funding boost via the Eastern Ontario Development Fund will supplement $3 million in investments by the Kanata North Business Association.

"Projects like these are part of our Building Ontario plan, to create economic prosperity in every corner of our province," Ford said.

The technology park in Kanata is Canada's largest tech hub, where more than 28,000 people work.

"We have a vision for Kanata, that will see Canada’s largest technology park transform into the preeminent region in the country to live, work, play and learn," said Jamie Petten, Kanata North Business Association President and Executive Director. "With generous support from the Province of Ontario, Hub350 is the magnetic force that brings it all together, moving things forward as that vision becomes a reality."

The province is also giving $1 million from the Eastern Ontario Development Fund to the municipality of Mississippi Mills to expand its business park in Almonte, Ont.