Too young to vaccinate, too old to cohort Thousands of kids going into Grade 7 won't turn 12 until after school year begins

Grade 7 students in Manitoba will go back to school in non-cohorted classrooms with an option to wear masks next month, even though thousands of them will not have had the opportunity to get immunized against COVID-19.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/08/2021 (480 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Grade 7 students in Manitoba will go back to school in non-cohorted classrooms with an option to wear masks next month, even though thousands of them will not have had the opportunity to get immunized against COVID-19.

“It’s going to make me feel a little uncomfortable. I’m going to be unvaccinated and put into a position (in which) I’m unable to protect myself as others can,” said Zoe Reid, a soon-to-be seventh grader at Springfield Middle School, who is counting down the days until her 12th birthday.

The 11-year-old has been enviously watching her friends with early birthdays, as well as her older brother, get vaccinated in recent months.

She told the Free Press she cannot wait until it’s her turn in late November, in the hopes that being fully immunized will allow for a return to “normal school,” and the chance to participate in a real band rather than simply bang empty buckets in music class.

Approximately a quarter of the almost 16,000 incoming Grade 7 students in Manitoba public and independent schools will not be eligible to get their initial vaccine dose before the first day of class.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Lindsay Reid with her children, from left, Juliana, 10, Zoe, 11, and Xavier, 13. Reid is concerned about her two younger children entering school without being vaccinated.

It won’t be until Dec. 31 that all of these middle schoolers will be eligible to get their first jab of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Pupils with the latest possible birthday will be fully immunized, at the earliest, by mid-February.

Given Manitoba requires patients to wait 28 days after their initial shot to get a second dose and considers vaccinated status to occur 14 days after the final shot, Zoe anticipates she will be fully protected in early 2022.

As far as her mother, Lindsay Reid is concerned, that far-off timeline is unacceptable alongside a back-to-school plan that simply recommends mask use, encourages physical distancing and requires cohorting only Grade 6 and younger students, because they cannot yet be vaccinated.

Reid, a mother of three school-age children, is considering taking a road trip west to get her middle child immunized because Alberta has made vaccines available to anyone born before or during 2009, regardless of their exact birthday.

With the exceptions of B.C. and Alberta, every province is strictly following Health Canada guidelines, which include approval of the Pfizer vaccine for anyone over age 12.

“It’s going to make me feel a little uncomfortable. I’m going to be unvaccinated and put into a position (in which) I’m unable to protect myself as others can.” – Zoe Reid

Louise Waldman, a mother of a Grade 7 student with a birthday in mid-autumn, is “a million per cent in favour” of Manitoba copying its western neighbours. To Waldman, it makes no sense the province is strictly following Ottawa’s age-based immunization approach, but not its advice that all children age five and older should wear masks in shared indoor spaces.

“For some things, we’re doing what we’re told. For other things, we’re going into uncharted territory. I’m nervous for all kids, obviously. I want all kids to be OK,” she said.

“I’m especially nervous for this one group of kids that they haven’t seemed to have thought about.”

Sixty-seven per cent of 12-year-olds in Manitoba had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday. In total, 54 per cent of that age group is fully immunized.

“While not all children in Grade 7 are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, the majority of children are. Therefore, those who are fully vaccinated will provide a level of protection for those who are not yet eligible,” a provincial spokesperson said in an email Tuesday in response to a request for comment about the province’s back-to-school plan.

“I’m especially nervous for this one group of kids that they haven’t seemed to have thought about.” – Louise Waldman

The spokesperson also noted Manitoba’s school-based vaccination strategy includes a review of age eligibility criteria.

Vaccine clinics in schools will need to be accessible and re-occurring because the inconvenience of pulling a student out of school to get immunized could be a hurdle that prevents uptake, said Jessica Gallos-Pronyk, who has children entering Grades 5, 7 and 8 this fall.

Gallos-Pronyk said she hoped she could avoid such a hassle for her seventh grader, who will turn 12 later this week, but several appointments she booked for him this summer — with fingers crossed that Manitoba would change its approach and vaccinate all students born in 2009 — were cancelled.

Calling Manitoba’s insistence on only vaccinating kids on or after their 12th birthday “relatively arbitrary,” she said she wants officials to reconsider the eligibility markers to provide more protection for school communities.

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society declined to comment on the situation Tuesday.

Education Minister Cliff Cullen was not made available for an interview.

 

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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