Top doctor weighs in on unvaccinated students returning to classrooms in September
With the return to the classroom coming closer, Manitoba's top doctor says if students are not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, those around them should roll up their sleeves and get the shot.
Few details have been released in Manitoba about what the return to the classroom will look like. The provincial government said in June that it plans to have all Kindergarten to Grade 12 students return to in-class learning full-time on Sept. 7.
Students who are eligible to receive a vaccine – those 12 and up – have to get it by Tuesday, July 27, to be considered fully vaccinated in time for school.
For the younger students who are not eligible, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, said the best way to protect them is to have those around them vaccinated.
"We know that younger children are much less likely to have severe outcomes, they are also less likely to be high transmitters of the virus," he said.
"What we need is people at home to be fully vaccinated, so if the virus is brought home, it is brought home to a family that is fully vaccinated with everyone eligible there. Within the school, if we have staff and eligible students vaccinated, we are going to see much less transmission occurring in those areas."
Roussin said the province is still looking at different back-to-school scenarios and working with partners on the national level for guidance on getting students back into the classrooms.
"We know that getting the kids back to school in as much a normal fashion is quite important," he said.
He said more details about the return to school will be released in the coming weeks.
The current eligibility rules have some parents and guardians concerned about the fall school year for those who cannot get vaccinated.
Six-year-old Lucas was born with only one kidney and lives with some underlying health conditions.
Heading into Grade 2 in just over a month, Lucas's grandmother Jackie Jeffery worries about a potential fourth pandemic wave putting her grandson at risk.
“Our biggest concern with him going back to school is that he can’t get the vaccine obviously because of his age,” said Jeffery.
The Delta variant of concern (B.1.617.2) now makes up 30 per cent of Manitoba’s COVID-19 cases and could become the dominant strain.
COVID-19 case numbers and test positivity rates are dropping. Parents and students want to know if masks, cohorts and physical distancing will still be required for the start of the school year.
“I hope that if we’re still kind of in a zone where there could be a fourth wave that they would still do precautions,” said Heather Hallatt.
“I definitely don’t want them making decisions just based on fear or emotion or anything like that, so data-driven stuff is really where I would like to see things go,” said Terrin Ramsey.
Roussin confirmed the province won’t be mandating vaccines in schools.
Jeffery, who works in a school, said she would like so see the same precautions in place this fall and she wonders why some eligible people won’t get the shot to protect those that can’t.
“It baffles the mind, but what can you do? You know it’s their right, they have every right. But then we also have every right to feel safe,” said Jeffery.
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