Manitoba public health officials aiming to get more youth vaccinated as they go back to school

As students prepare to go back to school this week, just under two-thirds of eligible students have had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

$1 million in mental health supports for schools announced for those impacted by pandemic stress

A 17-year-old receives a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Manitoba public health officials are aiming to get at least 80 per cent of eligible youth vaccinated, and are establishing pop-up clinics at schools to help reduce any barriers. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

As students prepare to go back to school this week, just under two-thirds of eligible students have had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Tuesday, 64 per cent of youth 12-17 are fully vaccinated, said Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the vaccine implementation task force.

Reimer says the province is aiming to have at least 80 per cent of that age demographic protected against COVID-19 and more contagious variants. 

"We know that that is by far the best way to protect people, and so we will continue to work hard to make the vaccine available to people in a convenient way," she said at the weekly COVID-19 news conference Tuesday.

One such way is by offering vaccine clinics in schools, but that's not to get around parental consent issues, she said.

"I do want to reassure parents that the goal of the school-based campaign is to make it as easy as possible for those youth to get the vaccine. It is in no way an attempt to get around any sort of parental involvement in their their children's health," Reimer said.

"What we want is just to facilitate access to those youth, to those family who want the vaccine, but face barriers to getting it in other ways."

Manitoba's acting deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Jazz Atwal, says it's possible schools may have to revert to remote learning again if COVID-19 cases spread quickly and hospitals are overrun.

"I can't predict two months down the road. I can't predict four months down the road. Could schools shut down? I think realistically, the answer is yes, that's a possibility. But that is not our goal. Our goal is to keep schools functioning," he said.

"If we want to to have some sort of semblance of a society, then we need to partake as a society. We need to go get vaccinated if we're eligible. We need to go get tested."

A student walks into Principal Sparling School last September. The province says it's spending more to support students and staff who are struggling with mental health concerns. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Mental health supports for schools

The province is spending over $1 million to support the mental health of Manitoba students and educators as they head back to school, the education minister announced on Tuesday.

The money will be used to train teachers and school staff to talk about mental health and provide supports for students, teachers and staff, Cliff Cullen said at a news conference.

"The first day of school is always an exciting time for both students and staff, but we know it can also be an anxious time," Cullen said.

"We appreciate the anxiety that students and parents are facing and we're going to try to accommodate them as best as we can." 

The bulk of the money — $380,000 — will go to the Canadian Mental Health Association to provide supports to those working in education, including online resources in French and English and a peer wellness coaching team.

About $150,000 will be used to engage elders and knowledge keepers in schools to support the well-being of Indigenous students.

The money will also be used to train educators in suicide prevention and intervention, who will then train students over 15, other teachers and parents.

Educators will also take part in culturally relevant and trauma-informed professional development.

The Manitoba Mental Health in Schools Strategy was developed alongside educators and other stakeholders, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said at the news conference.

"Our goal is to build upon what we know works well for our students, teachers and our communities," she said. 

The $1 million announcement is in addition to $2.5 million the province promised last year.


Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. In 2023, she was part of a team that won a Radio Television Digital News Association award for breaking news coverage of the killings of three Indigenous women, allegedly by a serial killer. Email story ideas to