Manitoba task force ‘seriously considering’ school-based COVID-19 immunizations for young students

WINNIPEG — The medical lead of Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force says the province is seriously considering a school-based immunization rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for young students once Health Canada approves vaccines for children under 12.

For now, only children between the ages of 12 and 17 can roll up their sleeves for a Pfizer shot in Canada.

Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the vaccine task force, said Pfizer is currently working on studies regarding the vaccinations of children under 12. She said the earliest Health Canada might approve the vaccines for children is estimated to be in October.

As for what Manitoba’s vaccine rollout for children under 12 will look like—that is yet to be determined.

Reimer said the task force is still working on its plans, but it is eyeing the possibility of bringing the vaccine to students in schools.

“Because we have done school-based vaccines for many years, that is something we are seriously considering for COVID as well,” she said, adding no plans have been finalized.

“We are working with education to assess the feasibility of running COVID immunization clinics as well as our routine school-based immunization clinics in the schools this year, and we are also trying to take into account how any plans might have to be adjusted if we did see a fourth wave, for example.”

She said school-based COVID-19 immunization programs would be a good way to reach children who otherwise would not be able to get a vaccine at other immunization sites.

“It is something that not only takes advantage of the fact that children are all in the same location, but also is something that people are familiar with and comfortable with because we have done it for so many years with other vaccines,” Reimer said.

She said when it comes to consenting to a vaccine there is no strict age cut-off. However, Reimer said public health tries to ensure the person who is consenting—regardless of their age—understands the risks, benefits, and alternatives to the decision they are making.

“There is very few, if any, at younger ages who do have that capacity, so parental consent becomes more and more of a requirement the younger that we get,” Reimer said. “But there is no strict cut-off for this vaccine, nor is there for any other service in health-care, and we plan to follow the same processes that have been in place for decades.”

Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said younger children are at a smaller risk of severe outcomes due to COVID-19.

He said given Manitoba’s COVID-19 numbers and vaccine rates, the province believes students will be able to return to school this fall.

He said more details about the return to school will be released later this week.

As of Tuesday, 80 per cent of Manitobans age 12 and up have been vaccinated with at least one dose, while 71.4 per cent have received both doses. 

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