Vaccine eligibility gives youth hope that life will eventually return to normal
'I want it to be a good summer' after missing out on games and making memories, says Joshua Sola
Sixteen-year-old Mosab Ahmed has been benched for over a year from high school basketball because of the pandemic.
He missed out on his first year of playing varsity at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate, but he's relieved that the entire year isn't lost thanks to today's news that Manitobans aged 12 to 17 can now get a COVID-19 vaccine.
"It's good to hear that people my age are finally eligible for the vaccine. And that life can start getting back to normal eventually," said Ahmed.
With vaccine eligibility opening up today for his age group, Ahmed says he hopes people will get the vaccine because he and his friends just want to get the basketball season up and running as soon as possible.
So he does solo drills on an outdoor court in Winnipeg's Winnipeg's St. James-Assiniboia area, preparing to have someone to guard in the coming years.
Manitoba is now one of the first provinces to allow its young people between the ages of 12-17 — all 111,00 of them — to get the shot. Pfizer-BioNTech is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for this age group in Canada so far.
Vaccine raises hope of achieving hoop dreams
Ahmed is not alone. Later on the same neighbourhood court, two brothers are playing a rare one-on-one game. Samuel Sola, 16, goes in for the dunk shot and scores another two points on his older brother, Joshua Sola, 18.
These athletes are also on the same Sturgeon Heights team. Samuel Sola's hoop dreams of playing as a Toronto Raptors point guard have been deferred.
"I don't really get to play against my age group, and play against people and really make my game good," said Samuel Sola.
After the disappointing sports year, he's looking forward to getting the vaccine and reconnecting with his friends this summer.
"Being able to hang out with your friends … 'cause last summer wasn't really good. I've been looking forward to this summer and I want it to be a good summer," said Samuel.
Coach helps youth get through tough year
Many senior high school students have been struggling with not being able to put their skills on full display for their final year of school. Samuel's older brother, Joshua, is one of them.
"I feel really sad. It's just a bad feeling. You just had so much anticipation and feeling like 'Oh, maybe I might get to play this year'. And then it just never happens," said Joshua Sola.
"And just all the stuff that could have been, and the memories you could have had with your friends and your teammates. But I guess you just gotta keep going."
With his almost 20 years of experience as a coach, Stephen Tackie fills a crucial support role for youth in these challenging times.
"I think that kids in Grade 12 have to kind of mourn that loss and figure out how to handle it and deal with it. And as a coach, that's where I can come in and support them in that way," said Tackie, a basketball coach at Sturgeon Heights Collegiate.
One teen who's been in dance lessons for nine years says she's also missing the bond she shared with her peers before COVID-19 health restrictions kept her off the dance floor.
"The whole part of not dancing with them for like a long time is hard, because dance has been every Saturday for nine years of my life," said Ava Dyce, 14, who dances with the ANANSI School of Performing Arts.
WATCH | Ava Dyce, 14, talks about why she's excited for the vaccine:
Ava's mom, Amanda Younka, booked her vaccine appointment today after waiting online for two hours. The province has dropped vaccine eligibility by 18 years since Monday.
"Hopefully if we reach herd immunity by the fall, then high school and school can get back closer to normal," said Dyce.
Youth who had COVID-19 eager to get the vaccine
Yulianna Prytsyuk, 17, hasn't been able to play piano for the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brandon as all clubs have been shut down.
Unfortunately, she not only contracted COVID-19, but infected everyone in her household — including her grandparents. The unexpected illness left her with a raspy throat and a keen desire to get her shot.
"I really want to just get vaccinated and avoid a repeat of that, and my family can just be safe," said Prytsyuk.
The province has provided information specific to young people getting vaccinated.
Youth aged 16 and 17 can sign the required consent form themselves, and just need to bring their identification, — including their health card and government-issued ID, or school ID — to their vaccine appointments.
Minors aged 12-15 can attend their vaccine appointment with a caregiver, parent or guardian, or can bring their consent form already signed by their parents. Those who have no forms can still go through the informed consent process on site with a qualified health professional.
Young athletes and dancers aren't the only ones feeling the loss of the regular school year. Coaches also see the importance of sports in their development.
"I feel that when you're with a team, you learn about sacrifice. You learn about commitment. And you learn it in a different way. You as an individual have to do your part," said Tackie.
"And that's one thing that kids I think missed out on this year is just another opportunity to learn that 'It's my responsibility to serve others.'"