'We gotta go where the kids are': School board, advocates call for more vaccine options for students

Edmonton Public Schools and advocacy group Support Our Students want the Alberta government to make vaccinations more accessible for kids aged five to 11.

The school board wants the shots offered at schools, pharmacies and doctors offices.

Right now in Edmonton, kids five to 11 can only get vaccinated at Alberta Health Services clinics, many of which close at 5 p.m.

"If there's a single-family household, they'll have to take time off work to be able to take their children to one of the approved clinics. And so those sorts of reasons could result in lower vaccination rates, particularly for underserved communities," trustee Nathan Ip said.

According to Alberta Health, 41.5 per cent of children between five and 11 have received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, and just 5.5 per cent have had both doses.

Ip wants to see pediatric vaccines available in pharmacies and doctors offices. He also wants mobile vaccination clinics and in-school clinics.

Support Our Students Alberta, a citizen group that advocates for "equitable, accessible and universal public education," agrees with Ip.

"We gotta go where the kids are, bring it to them... It means doing things that are not traditional, like parks and playgrounds. They're there already," said parent and SOS volunteer Wing Li.

"If you take out the steps of travelling to an AHS clinic, you know, all of those obstacles, I think we can start moving the needle."

Li also said the province should do more to tackle misinformation for parents who are unsure whether to get their kids a shot.

Last week, Premier Jason Kenney said the government set up in-school clinics for first and second doses, but there was almost no demand, which wasted AHS resources.

But both Ip and Li said that was a different scenario because those clinics were for kids aged 12 to 17 and the EPSB board chair agreed.

"I don’t think the fact that we didn’t see a huge uptake in that (12-17 age) group should negate the offer and the idea of offering those clinics in our schools now. I don’t think we can equate the two," Trisha Estabrooks argued.

"Those clinics came after it was available to that age group. And so those who were going to go get the shot for their child, or the child that was going to get it, had already done it."

The province says it is offering "convenient access" at 120 locations throughout Alberta, most of which are open on evenings and weekends, and that so far the list has been able to meet demand. 

"Polling prior to the pediatric vaccine launch indicated that only 30-40% of Alberta parents planned to have their 5 to 11 year old children immunized against COVID-19," a statement from Health Minister Jason Copping's press secretary, Steve Buick, read. 

"We’re already over 40% and we’ll keep working to get the rate higher, by giving parents good information and encouraging them to choose vaccination for their kids." 

He added the ministry will get advice from the province's new Vaccine Hesitancy Advisory Committee. 

CTV News Edmonton also reached out to the education ministry for comment on this story.

The calls for increased access to pediatric vaccine come a day after the province erroneously reported a child with no pre-existing health conditions died of COVID-19. ​On Tuesday, AHS and Alberta's chief medical officer of health confirmed the child did have pre-existing conditions.

With files from CTV News Edmonton Alison MacKinnon