Children from kindergarten to Grade 12 have settled into their school routines, as the pandemic that started in March of 2020 continues to affect the well-being of many Manitobans and is still affecting the capacity of our health-care system.
As the highly contagious delta variant continues its march across our province, none of us can accurately predict outcomes. And while we have heard what sounds like good news from Pfizer regarding immunization for younger-aged individuals, we don’t know with certainty when Health Canada will authorize a vaccine for children under the age of 11.
For parents, teachers, education support staff, coaches, volunteers, bus drivers, administrators and kids alike, this can be a lot to feel nervous about. There is, however, so much that is within our control. Right now, the No. 1 priority is doing everything we can to keep kids safe at school, and in their day-to-day lives.
Experts in child development and psychology know children and youth crave consistency and predictability. They feel safer and more confident when they know what’s coming, what to do, and how to get there. We can all choose to model behaviours and attitudes that are as consistent, reliable and predictable as the approved vaccines.
Vaccination can stop youth from contracting the disease, prevent serious illness if they do contract it, prevent it from being passed on to others and reduce the chance of COVID-19 developing more strains. These facts bring a sense of safety and security in uncertain times.
It also offers a good measure of assurance to know that all Manitoba public school teachers, school administrators and support staff — anyone working with children and youth — will be required to provide proof they are fully immunized by the end of October or, if they are not immunized, submit to COVID-19 testing up to three times a week.
As well, in-school Pfizer vaccinations will be taking place over the next few weeks for students born before Dec. 31, 2009. Parents and guardians are encouraged to provide consent for youth who are eligible and who have not yet received their first or second doses. You don’t need to wait for the in-school program, however.
In addition to vaccine protection from COVID-19, the youth immunization catch-up program is now taking appointments for routine immunizations such as HPV, hepatitis B, meningococcal disease and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The safety, predictability and reliability of all the approved vaccines is proven scientific fact we can all place confidence in.
COVID-19 vaccines are tested on a much more widespread scale than most of the prescription medicines people take regularly, as prescribed by their doctor. And despite what you may have heard, no steps were missed in the clinical trials and vaccine approval processes before Health Canada authorized these vaccines for use.
In addition to immunizing yourself and eligible youth at a pop-up clinic, medical office, pharmacy or a supersite, be aware of who your kids are hanging out with, at school, after school, and on the weekends. Always keep the fundamentals close at hand.
There is a lot we can’t control, but getting yourself and the kids in your care vaccinated is something that you can control. Your choices and decisions don’t just affect you — they impact everyone with whom you come into contact, and everyone in their circles, and so on.
This fall, I would like to thank Manitobans for doing everything we need to do for the kids, and to help protect our whole community.
Our future depends on it.
Dr. Joss Reimer is the medical lead on Manitoba’s vaccine implementation taskforce.