Eligible Okanagan students as well as teachers will be able to get their COVID-19 vaccines at school clinics throughout September.
Interior Health announced this week that it intends to host school-based COVID-19 vaccine clinics throughout its coverage areas, which is most the Southern Interior. So far, only Vernon, Armstrong and Keremeos have school clinics scheduled, though more dates are expected.
“Keeping schools open and safe is vital for the social and emotional well-being of students,” Jennifer Whiteside, B.C.’s education minister, said in a press release.
“We must all come together to keep students and school staff safe and the best way to do that is to get vaccinated. If you have yet to get your first or second dose of the vaccine, your time is now.”
Interior Health said all age-eligible students, teachers and staff can walk up, register and receive their first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. People are eligible for their second dose 28 days after receiving their first dose. These clinics will occur throughout September as students get back to school.
Despite some commentary to the contrary, providing vaccines at schools is not unusual.
“Vaccine clinics have been offered at our schools for decades and through the pandemic, we had three pop-up clinics at three of our schools already,” Kevin Kaardal, superintendent of the Central Okanagan school district, said.
“We don’t think they’ll be anything any different than those vaccine clinics when they were available to families in a more convenient way.”
Vaccination availability in schools is something that the BC Teachers’ Federation had asked for last May when vaccinations had started. At that time, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was saying that community clinics were the preferred delivery method because they allowed families to get the vaccine together.
The head of the BC Teachers’ Federation, Teri Mooring, said schools, not community clinics, would be the best place to vaccinate children aged 12 to 17 against COVID-19.
“I’m thinking of those families for whom this will present a significant barrier to their children getting vaccinated,” Mooring said in a Tweet.
“It’s critical that we use an equity lens when it comes to public health. Some folks work multiple jobs, and aren’t easily able to bring their kids to a clinic.”
As for overall school safety, Kaardal had some reassurances.
Kaardal said he thinks schools are as safe as they’ve ever been during the pandemic in part because B.C. has high vaccination rates among adults and an ever-increasing number among those aged 12 to 17 years old.
Okanagan schools will also be subject to more safety protocols for COVID-19.
IHA announced Wednesday that it’s implementing three additional measures due to increased COVID-19 activity locally, including a limit of 50 people or two classes for indoor school assemblies, limits to school visitors and a cap on spectators watching school sports of 50 indoors and 100 outdoors. Masks will be required again for students Grade 4 and older.
Schools will promote their clinics locally and Interior Health will regularly update the immunization clinic page as new clinics are confirmed.