The push to get all school staff included on Manitoba’s vaccine priority list

WINNIPEG — There’s a push to get school staff in Manitoba fully vaccinated before the start of the next school year.

On Friday, two small demonstrations were held in Winnipeg demanding teachers be vaccinated.

“At the rate that we’re going, by the beginning of September not all teachers will be fully vaccinated for the new school year,” said teacher Kara Godin.

The groups, which separately set up demonstrations in St. Vital and St. Boniface, say school staff need to be put on a vaccination priority list.

“In New Brunswick, they actually closed schools on a rotating basis,” said teacher Luanne Karn.

“Parents would completely support that in order to ensure that all staff were vaccinated.”

Vaccine eligibility did open up to some school staff on Friday. The province announced people working in schools in three hot spot regions in Winnipeg’s core could now get the shot.

The regions include Downtown East, Point Douglas South, and Inkster East.

“The teachers are included if they work in areas where we know there is potential for a lot of transmission of the virus, and we plan to continue to have them eligible as we expand those communities,” said Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for the Vaccine Implementation Task Force.

The province said while there is a lot of transmission in school-aged children, transmission at school remains low.

“A lot of the transmission happens with individuals who are from the same class who, let’s say, get together after school,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, Deputy Chief Provincial Public Health Officer.

“They’re having sleepovers or they’re getting together on play dates and other factors related to that, so the schools really aren’t the issue here.”

The Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) said the expanded eligibility is a small step in the right direction, but would like to see everyone included.

“In terms of the number of contacts those who work in education have on a daily basis, it makes sense because keeping schools open is a positive thing across the board,” said MTS President James Bedford.

For the teachers rallying for change on Friday, becoming eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine would be a sigh of relief on what they say has been a difficult year.

“Getting vaccinated would mean everything to us,” said Godin.

“It would mean us feeling safe in our workplace for the first time in over a year.”

The province also announced on Friday it would be spending an additional $230,000 to support students, teachers, and staff during the pandemic. The majority of the money is being spent on mental health and wellness programs.  

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