Plan to extend COVID-19 vaccination to teens offers hope for more normal summer, some Manitoba students say

With the news Manitoba plans to extend COVID-19 vaccines to people as young as 12, the buzz around campus is that many high school students want to get vaccinated when they’re eligible, while others feel apprehensive about it.

On Wednesday, Health Canada approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people aged 12-15, dropping the approval age down from 16.

Johanu Botha, co-lead of Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force, told reporters Wednesday the province plans to open up vaccination bookings for people as young as 12 by May 21.

Some of the young Manitobans CBC News spoke with Wednesday say they’re looking forward to their shots.

“I don’t want to get sick and I want to enjoy my summer,” said Ricki Everett, 15, who plans on getting her COVID-19 vaccine so she can feel safe going swimming.

Zahid Bandali, who turns 16 next month, believes students ought to get the vaccine to keep each other safe. But he also hopes it allows more school activities, such as varsity sports, to start up again.

“There’s no Grade 9 team, no [junior varsity] team, no varsity team,” he said.

“All we do, we just hang out and stuff so we have to get it — to keep everyone safe and us safe too.”

At Maples Collegiate, there are currently no competitive sports allowed, but band and choir groups were recently allowed to start performing again, said principal Scott Shier.

Gurnoor Wirring, 14, plays a woodwind instrument in band class but is only allowed to do so with the instrument wrapped in a bag. At one point during Wednesday’s class, he had trouble playing the right notes because he didn’t know what keys he was pushing.

“Crazy,” said Wirring, when asked what it’s like playing an instrument that way.

He hopes the vaccine makes schools safer, he said.

Maples Collegiate student Gurnoor Wirring tries playing a woodwind instrument through a bag during band class Wednesday afternoon. (John Einarson/CBC)

The possibility that many students could be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in less than three weeks is “pretty exciting,” said Shier.

But some are apprehensive about it because of what they read in the news. Maples Collegiate staff have been speaking with students to ease concerns and help them understand that the vaccine will lead to a sense of normalcy, he said.

“We’re educators. We want to educate kids as best we can,” said Shier.

Salem Habtom, 16, is among those who wants to wait and see.

“I don’t think I’m ready to take it,” said Habtom, adding she’s a little scared about potential side effects. “Maybe in a month.”

With rising COVID-19 cases and the school year nearing its end, she wonders if a greater focus should be put on immunizing more adults.

Cyril and Jomar Briones, who are parents to six kids, said Wednesday’s news gives them hope that the pandemic is coming to an end.

“We all want solutions to [stop] the spreading of this virus,” said Cyril.

“We strongly believe the vaccine is one way to stop it and we’ve been waiting for this for more than a year.… So it’s good news.”