Manitoba Teachers' Society wants all teachers on vaccine eligibility list
Quarter of COVID-19 cases in school are linked to variants of concern
Teachers working in Manitoba communities with the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission will soon be eligible for the vaccine, but some are asking whether that's enough.
Provincial health officials will release more details next week on which communities and professions will be eligible.
Nathan Martindale, vice-president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, says the union wants all teachers and school staff to be able to get the shot as part of the change in eligibility.
He said the union is concerned it's too little, too late to protect its 16,000 members.
"I would have liked to see this announcement made back in February — we're halfway through April right now. I hope it's not too late, we know that the third wave of this pandemic is here," Martindale said.
"While it's a good start … once again we want to see it applied to all of our members, and not just a few."
Martindale could not speak to logistics on how to vaccinate all teachers, but pointed out Saskatchewan's drive-through vaccination clinics as an example of delivering a large number of vaccines in a short period of time.
"So imagine how fast you could vaccinate a large number of teachers in various places in Manitoba," he said.
"Bottom line is: all of our members, all the adults, and doing it expediently."
Those working in classrooms say it's at least a start.
"Personally I would love to be higher up on that list, but I think if any teacher can get it anywhere I think that's very important," said Elizabeth LaRue, a music teacher at Ecole Seven Oaks School.
Variants of concern in schools
In Winnipeg, 40 per cent of cases reported in the first week of April involved variants of concern, while the province says a quarter of all active COVID-19 cases in schools are linked to variants.
That's prompted Seven Oaks School Division to switch from standard medical masks for teachers to N95s.
Brian O'Leary, superintendent of the Seven Oaks School Division, said he's ordered 35,000 N95s, and hopes to get another 40,000 more, to last teachers until the end of the school year.
He says they cost about a dollar per mask, and each teacher will have one per day.
"As we're looking at the increased threat and the situation in Ontario, we just said, 'Is there anything more that we could do to keep our staff safe?' and this is one thing," he said.
LaRue said she was happy to have the extra layer of protection for now.
"That final layer of protection would be that vaccine," she said.
Schools are now treating all positive cases as though they are variants, which means letters going home to parents will no longer note whether a school-linked case involves a variant.
A provincial spokesperson said that as variants of concern become the dominant strains of COVID-19 in Manitoba, the value of screening and sequencing for specific variants becomes less important in all sectors because soon the majority of all COVID-19 cases will be related to a variant of concern.
With files from Holly Caruk and Meaghan Ketcheson