A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer, and Heather Paterson, Nurse Advisor for the FNHA immunization team
Every year, parents spend the last few weeks of August preparing their children for their return to school and the adventures that await them. While school is an important part of children's emotional, social, physical, and academic development, this year is particularly important, as many children have been away for a long time, with reduced contact to friends, increased stress and barriers to learning.
Schools and school officials throughout the province have worked hard over the last year to ensure that schools are safe from vaccine-preventable diseases and provincial school guidelines for return to school has continued to focus on health and safety for students and staff. First Nations schools will decide how and when to use the provincial guidance in the best interests of their schools, students and communities.
Schools are nearly universally lower-risk sites for spreading COVID-19, particularly when prevention measures are in place. Because cases in schools reflect those in the community, these are more likely to occur in communities with lower vaccination numbers.
Keeping your child or youth up to date with routine immunizations for vaccine-preventable diseases is one good way to promote overall health.
For youth aged 12 and over it is especially important this year to make sure they have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting vaccinated is the single most important thing one can do to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community from COVID-19. That goes for parents and community members, too.
The good news is that most First Nations youth aged 12 to 17 in BC have already chosen to get their COVID-19 vaccine, with 67.6 per cent having a first dose as of Aug. 21. A second dose is needed to have the full benefit of the vaccine —preferably before school starts on Sept. 7!
For your first or second dose of COVID-19 Vaccine, find a drop-in clinic near you or you can book your appointment here. For those living in community (on reserve) who have questions about getting the vaccine you can also contact your local health centre.
While children who are under 12 are not currently eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, this age group is less likely to get and spread COVID-19 and have a low risk of serious illness if they do become infected. Studies are currently underway to test the COVID-19 vaccine in school-aged children, however, approval for use this age group is not expected until late 2021 or early 2022.
Masks will be an important part of keeping healthy, and are currently mandatory inside schools for all K to 12 staff, visitors and students in grades 4 to 12 throughout the province. Once masks mandates lift, parents may choose to have their child continue to wear a mask for an added layer of protection.
If your child feels sick, it's more important than ever for them to stay home and rest and to prevent the spread of infection to others. This year, all students and staff will again have to complete daily health checks before school. If a student or staff member feels unwell, they must stay home.
To determine whether to keep a child home and if they may need to be tested for COVID-19, please use the K-12 Health Check link at the bottom of this article. Staff and other adults can use this reference to determine whether they need to be tested. Other resources include the BC Centre for Disease Control online Self-Assessment Tool, or parents can call 8-1-1 or their health care provider for advice.
It is important to acknowledge the impacts of COVID-19 to mental health throughout this pandemic. In years past, children going back to school might have worried about whether their new teacher will be nice, if they will find friends or if their clothes are cool. Now throw COVID-19 stress into all of that and your children may have more anxiety and apprehension than usual about going back to school.
Acknowledge their concerns and help them prepare for school by establishing routines that reassure them. This may include connecting with your Indigenous culture in ways that are meaningful to you and your child.
FNHA: COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs
Province of BC: When to get tested for COVID-19 (PDF)
Province of BC: K to 12 Daily Health Check
Province of BC: COVID-19 safe schools
BC Centre for Disease Control: Public Health Communicable Disease Guidance for K-12 Schools