Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw announced today at a press conference that, with the new school year looming, Alberta Health Services would be making COVID-19 vaccines available to both students and teachers in schools this coming year.
With the new school year a little more than three weeks away, and around 50 per cent of children aged 12–17 fully vaccinated, Hinshaw said that offering vaccines through schools would increase accessibility to those who were eligible.
“Although it is best to get a vaccine before school starts,” the province's chief medical officer said, “for those that aren't able to do so, we will also offer COVID-19 vaccines in schools.” Hinshaw outlined how vaccines would be available through temporary clinics accessible to students from Grade 7 through Grade 12, as well as for teachers and other school staff, starting on September 7.
“Providing vaccines through school ensures vaccines will be accessible to all eligible school-age Albertans in the province,” Hinshaw said.
On the contentious issue of mask usage in Alberta schools, Hinshaw stated that masking would not be a requirement, but could be suggested as a temporary intervention for outbreaks.
“Masking will not be universally required in schools across the province,” Hinshaw explained, adding that “they may be recommended as one of several temporary interventions for respiratory outbreaks in general.”
Alberta's highest ranking medical official also suggested that local school officials would have a say in the decision-making process, saying that “school officials can also make decisions that are right for them and their communities.”
“This includes the ability to consider putting health measures in for their schools that may exceed those put in place across the province.”
One admission from Hinshaw, however, surrounded the negative impact lockdowns and other public health measures had on the decline in mental health in youth.
“Many children have reported increased feelings of social isolation, depression and anxiety,” she said, reminding Albertans that “it is important to keep the negative impacts of these measures in mind, particularly when looking at a population that is at lower risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.”
Expanding on her point about the low risk factor for the younger population, Hinshaw pointed to the number of children admitted to hospital for fall-related injures (four times as many as COVID), and anxiety-related disorders (eight times as many as COVID), stating that "overall, less than half of one per cent of all diagnosed COVID cases in school-age children have required hospital care, and thankfully, there have been no COVID-related deaths in children.”