Real-time science lessons are going to play out in school gymnasiums rather than classroom labs as elementary buildings are converted into COVID-19 vaccine clinics to boost uptake among a newly eligible cohort.
Later this week, public health nurses in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority are scheduled to visit the first of a series of elementary schools to administer child-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine.
“Everybody is very excited that this is happening so quickly,” said Sari Rosenberg, principal of Governor Semple School. “It’s just such a positive thing for our community and such an important part of feeling healthy and hopeful after a long journey.”
Rosenberg received what she described as a thrilling phone call from the province to discuss a school-based clinic at the K-5 building in Seven Oaks on Nov. 23 — only five days after Health Canada had approved the vaccine for children aged five to 11.
She was then tasked with sending home WRHA packages, including a standard letter about the pop-up site, a consent form and a fact sheet, to families and rounding up signed documents ahead of the Friday clinic.
Youth under 16 need parental consent to get a dose during school hours at any K-12 building site.
Tanya Gadd is among the parents who immediately sent in forms so her five- and nine-year-old daughters could participate in the clinic at Governor Semple. “This is great, to be able to have a school clinic — not only the convenience, but it’s really about protecting our community, our school and our staff and students, and their families,” said Gadd.
Those sentiments were part of the Winnipeg mother’s pitch to her fourth-grader, who expressed uneasiness about the upcoming clinic because of a fear of needles.
Since then, Gadd has found that her eldest has been talking with her peers about getting the vaccine and the more buy-in there is, the more comfortable she is with it. “There’s strength in numbers,” she added.
The Seven Oaks School Division has confirmed 13 school clinics. The Winnipeg School Division has announced 19 such sites. Additionally, Louis Riel School Division is working with public health officials to host 14 locations.
Rosenberg, who oversees a school with a population of 136, said there is a sense of relief and excitement in her community — not unlike what many staff members experienced earlier this year when all teachers became eligible to get immunized.
To mark the clinic’s occasion, some teachers have invited students to wear pyjamas or bring a stuffed toy to school.
Seven Oaks superintendent Brian O’Leary said he suspects there will be higher uptake at these in-school clinics in comparison to the middle years and high school ones because many older students got vaccinated when they became eligible in the summertime.
“We want it to be accessible to people. We want to work along with public health officials who’ve been doing the heavy lifting here and support them, and we want to keep schools open,” said O’Leary, noting the importance of hosting in-school clinics.
Approximately 163,000 doses — 84,000 first doses and 79,000 second doses — had been administered to youth aged 12 to 17 in Manitoba as of Monday, per the province’s tracking system.
Around 0.75 per cent of those first doses, and roughly one per cent of the followup jabs, were received at school-based clinics.