As students prepare to resume classes this week, just under two-thirds of eligible students have had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
As of Tuesday, 64% of youth 12-17 were fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the vaccine implementation task force.
Reimer says the region is aiming to have at least 80% of that age demographic protected against COVID-19 and more contagious variants.
“We know that that is by far the best way to protect people, and so we will continue to work hard to make the vaccine available to people in a convenient way,” she said at the weekly COVID-19 press conference Tuesday.
One such method is by providing vaccine clinics in schools, but that is not to get around parental consent matters, she said.
“I do want to reassure parents that the goal of the school-based campaign is to make it as easy as possible for those youth to get the vaccine. It is in no way an attempt to get around any sort of parental involvement in their their children’s health,” Reimer said. “What we want is just to facilitate access to those youth, to those family who want the vaccine, but face barriers to getting it in other ways.”
Manitoba’s acting deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Jazz Atwal, says it is possible schools may have to revert to remote learning again if COVID-19 cases spread quickly and hospitals are overrun.
“I can’t predict two months down the road. I can’t predict four months down the road. Could schools shut down? I think realistically, the answer is yes, that’s a possibility. But that is not our goal. Our goal is to keep schools functioning,” he said. “If we want to have some sort of semblance of a society, then we need to partake as a society. We need to go get vaccinated if we’re eligible. We need to go get tested.”
Mental health supports for schools
The region is spending more than $1m to support the mental health of Manitoba students and educators as they go back to school, said the education minister on Tuesday.
The money will be used to train teachers and school staff to speak about mental health and offer supports for students, teachers and staff, Cliff Cullen said at a press conference.
“The first day of school is always an exciting time for both students and staff, but we know it can also be an anxious time,” Cullen said. “We appreciate the anxiety that students and parents are facing and we’re going to try to accommodate them as best as we can.”
The bulk of the funds _ $380,000 – will go to the Canadian Mental Health Association to offer supports to those working in education, including online resources in English and French and a peer wellness coaching team.
Around %150,000 will be used to engage elders and knowledge keepers in schools to support the well-being of Indigenous students.
The funds will additionally be used to train educators in suicide prevention and intervention, who will then train students over 15 years of age, parents and other teachers.
Educators will additionally participate in culturally relevant and trauma-informed professional development.
The Manitoba Mental Health in Schools Strategy was developed alongside educators as well as other stakeholders, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said at a press conference.
“Our goal is to build upon what we know works well for our students, teachers and our communities,” she said.
The $1m announcement is in addition to $2.5m the region pledged in 2020.