The chair of the Winnipeg School Division says it will move ahead with discussions to have EpiPens on hand at every school in the event a student has a life-threatening allergic reaction.
On Monday night, three parents of children with lethal allergies provided an in-depth presentation to school trustees about why they believe backup EpiPens are needed in schools.
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"Every day that I drop my six-year-old daughter off at school, I wonder if today is going to be the day she has a severe allergic reaction," Orla Nazarko told the trustees. "I also wonder if that EpiPen that she puts on in a little fanny pack around her waist every morning is actually going to be there for her when she needs it."
EpiPens are disposable needles used to administer epinephrine (adrenaline) to someone suffering an anaphylactic allergic reaction.
Nazarko said she worries her daughter may take it off to play or hide it away because she might be embarrassed about having a peanut allergy.
"When kids don't have their EpiPens tragedies happen," Nazarko said, pointing to the deaths of two American students, Katelyn Carlson and Ammaria Johnson, who had fatal anaphylactic reactions at school.
Nazarko first raised the idea of making EpiPens available at schools in May.
She and the other two other parents want all of the division's 78 schools to have cabinets to hold emergency EpiPens.
"I thought it was really well received," Nazarko said after the meeting. "I thought the trustees had some great questions. They seemed really interested in the idea."
Provincial policy change needed
The model has been adopted in a number of schools in Atlantic Canada and the United States, she said.
The cabinets cost $225 and hold two EpiPens — one for children and one for adults. The pair of EpiPens would cost $220 annually, because they expire, the group said.
Even if the division does move ahead with the plan, it would require changes to a Manitoba government protocol.
As it stands, "only medication prescribed by a licensed practitioner will be administered by school personnel," the school board said in a previous statement.
Lauren Phillips, whose nine-year-old daughter has nut allergies, told trustees the policy should be amended to make an exception in the case of an emergency.
The parents suggested the division could begin with a pilot project and phase in the cabinets at all 78 schools in the division.
However, school board chair Sherri Rollins asked the parents if they felt a pilot was necessary before full implementation.
"That was really great news to hear that she's suggesting that we skip the pilot altogether, because it's true, this has been piloted already in schools in eastern Canada," Nazarko said. "They know exactly what worked and what didn't. So just being in touch with the people that did that pilot, I think, would be sufficient."
Still early days: board chair
Rollins said she was moved by the presentation. She is in favour of the idea and said the board will continue discussions.
"I think it's still early days," she said. "We will want to talk to some of the experts … and talk to the province, our partners in education, and hear really from other jurisdictions as well on what they did — hopefully all in advance, before a child needs it in one of our schools."
Nazarko said she would like to see EpiPens available in all public places, similar to defibrillators.
"We're starting with the school division and I would love to see this take off across Manitoba."