As concern rises around the new and potentially dangerous Omicron variant, school safety advocates are demanding the Alberta government step up vaccine efforts for children as data shows less than 20 per cent will receive first doses by year’s end.
After nearly a week of vaccine availability for the youngest demographic, only 26,844, or 6.9 per cent, of Alberta children have received their first dose of the COVID-19 immunization.
And while 57,200, or 14.7 per cent, are booked for appointments over the next four weeks, the totals combined still represent about 20 per cent of kids aged five to 11 getting their first doses by the end of December.
Advocates fear a lack of publicity from the province and school boards, as well as a lack of access to COVID vaccines in schools, is contributing to the low uptake of vaccines for children.
Meanwhile, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, confirmed Alberta’s first case of Omicron on Tuesday in an international traveller arriving here from Nigeria last week.
Hinshaw stressed that while much is still unknown about the new variant, vaccines continue to be an important layer of protection.
But parents say the province isn’t doing enough to get vaccines into kids’ arms, starting with important access through schools, particularly for vulnerable families.
“What about families who speak English as a second language, who may not be able to navigate online booking, have several kids … or can’t take time off work to get their kids to a clinic,” said Krista Li, who sits on a parent council at the Calgary Catholic School District.
“Having vaccines in schools is a no-brainer. We’ve already been doing it for so many other vaccines,” Li added, explaining that a series of vaccines are already offered in schools including hepatitis B and HPV immunization for Grade 6 students.
Both the Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District have said they only look to the province for guidance around COVID vaccine messaging.
And neither school board has any information about the immunization rollout for children on their websites.
Amanda Hu, with Fresh Air Schools, which advocates for better COVID safety and improved ventilation, agreed, adding that the lack of information, advocacy and no in-school vaccination program is really concerning.
“Even when the government of Canada finally announced kids vaccines last week, Premier Kenney’s message was just that parents are the ones to decide what’s best for their kids in terms of vaccines.”
Hu is also lobbying the CBE to allow HEPA filters to support cleaner air in classrooms after public schools have told parents that HEPA filters are not necessary.
Lisa Glover, a spokeswoman for Alberta Health noted up to 57,200, or 14.6 per cent, of five- to 11-year-olds are booked for appointments over the next four weeks.
Glover added that COVID vaccines for children aged five to 11 are not yet available in schools, adding that a recent program offering in-school clinics for 12- to 18-year-olds this fall showed little uptake.
“We want to offer immunization quickly, and using established clinics allows for extended weekend hours and gives parents more flexibility to book appointments for their younger children,” she said.
“In-school vaccination clinics for older children saw very limited uptake, with only about 4,000 total doses administered and 700 clinics cancelled for lack of participation, out of about 1,300 schools with children in the eligible age range.”