A school division in southern Manitoba doesn’t plan to hold any on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

Unlike many other divisions, the Garden Valley School Division, which includes schools in areas with some of the lowest overall vaccination rates in the province, will not host clinics for eligible students.

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“It’s really unfortunate, because we have seen how the fourth wave, particularly with the delta variant, it is definitely affecting people who are unvaccinated at much higher rates,” said Michelle Driedger, professor of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba.

“Everybody’s individual choice has an impact on our overall community well-being, and so in an area where there’s opportunities to provide immunizations that aren’t being explored as being something that could be convenient for parents and school-aged children, it just always raises an open concern.”

A letter from the Southern Health Region addressed to Garden Valley parents dated Sept. 22 states no clinics will be held in division schools. It goes on to provide details of two vaccination clinics being held at C.W. Wiebe Medical Centre in Winkler on Oct. 7 and 15, where Garden Valley students can go to get immunized.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, confirmed on Monday that the division will not host in-school vaccine clinics.

“Certainly there are some schools and school divisions that might delay and in the end may choose not to hold COVID clinics, but we are always open to re-evaluating and reassessing,” Reimer said. “There’s no necessary end date to when they could potentially participate.”

The news comes as the beginning of Manitoba’s fourth wave continues to gain momentum, driven largely by a disproportionate number of cases from the Southern Health region.

Significant transmission

Manitoba Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said on Monday there is significant transmission happening in the south, with the rate of infection more than double that of the provincial average.

Southern Health also makes up about half of new COVID-19 cases, despite being home to just over 15 per cent of the provincial population, said Roussin.

He said more than half of the people from Southern Health who have been admitted to intensive care units lately have only received their first COVID-19 test after they presented at hospital with symptoms.

Roussin said this suggested some of those people had likely been out in the community spreading the virus before getting sick enough to need hospitalization.

The Winkler health district holds the second-lowest vaccination rate in the province at 41.3 per cent as of Monday, followed by the neighbouring health district of Stanley at 24 per cent.

Driedger said some from outside southern communities might hear about Garden Valley and question why the division wouldn’t take advantage of access to in-school vaccinations.

“I suspect it’s a feeling of just having people coming and telling them what to do and how to behave and how to be. It’s not something that’s sitting well,” said Driedger.

“At the same time, I think we all have to try to work collectively because our individual choices and our individual rights have an impact on other people around us.”

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