New school-based COVID vaccine clinics are set to start soon, but officials are still finishing their homework on how COVID-19 exposures in schools will be shared with the public.
The new school year is ringing in new COVID-19 practices across provincial schools. While older practices such as exposure notices are not yet finalized for the new year, there are plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines in schools for youth.
Vaccinations in schools
Two vaccine administration scenarios will be happening at Manitoban schools starting next week: one during school hours and one after school hours. These two will operate differently, most significantly around youth consent.
"It is critical that we provide this group with every opportunity to protect themselves against COVID-19," vaccine medial lead Dr. Joss Reimer says in a Monday afternoon press conference.
Clinics will begin on September 22, for the next four to six weeks. Reimer says caregivers and the school community will be notified when the clinic will be occurring at their student's school. At this time, a note and permission slip will be given out. A letter is currently being given out from Public Health detailing this for parents.
"This is how we can keep COVID out of schools: by making the vaccine available and accessible."
If someone is 16-years-old or older, they can give their own consent for the COVID-19 vaccine. If younger, parental permission is required to get the COVID-19 vaccine during the school-hour clinic. After hours, the consent process is different.
"There is, in legislation, rules that have existed for a long time regarding what rights young people have if they are able to understand the benefits and risks of any health intervention," she says. "However, we want to be very transparent and make sure parents feel comfortable with the process with is why we are making sure that the in-school process is a little bit different from what we do in our pop-up clinics.
After school hours, some may have pop-ups where youth born in 2009 or earlier can get the vaccine if they pass the informed consent process that is done with unaccompanied youth younger than 16 at pop-ups.
Seventy-three per cent of all youth have received their first COVID-19 vaccine as of this weekend, and 65 per cent have gotten both doses.
School exposure reporting
Woodlawn School, a Hanover elementary school in Steinbach, is the first school to see a class going remote this school year. A Grade 1 class has gone online after a September 8 and 9 exposure.
"The school will remain open, and classes for the remaining Grade 1 students and all other grades will continue as scheduled. We recognize that this decision will require parents/caregivers of students in the Grade 1 class to make alternate care arrangements," the school says in a statement on its website.
Despite most Manitoban schools holding their first case of class last week, how the public will be notified of exposures is still being worked out. Last year, media and public notices were released when exposures occurred. This year, Roussin says the plan for how this will be handled has not been completed.
"Public Health is quite involved with education with this, so we are just working on that what the process involved in that; what the process will be," Roussin says. "There is more to come shortly on the specifics."
Roussin says having "black and white" definitions for outbreaks in schools are not useful, saying it depends on the circumstances.
Last week, Education Minister Cliff Cullen said exposure noticed would look similar to last year, particularly the two-week dashboard that was developed.
Some Manitobans opposed to vaccine mandates
Provincial employees, including school staff, are required to be fully vaccinated as of October 31, or get COVID-19 vaccine rapid tests up to three times a week. This was announced on August 24.
"I want to stand up and support my friends who are teachers and EA's and everyone else who is in the school system and our kids especially who need to have the freedom of choice to choose what is best for their body and their family," Robin Wiebe said at a large protest in Steinbach outside of Hanover School Division's head office the week after mandatory vaccines were announced.
A planned protest is occurring in Winnipeg Monday, protesting against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare staff.