Educators in Manitoba are frustrated and confused about why they are not being prioritized in the province's vaccine plan.
A small group of people gathered outside Glenlawn Collegiate Friday during Friday's lunch hour to demonstrate, asking for teachers to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Signs saying "Vaccines 4 Teachers Now!!!", MAKE SCHOOLS SAFE" and others were surrounding the group in red. A second group demonstrated at the same time in St. Boniface at Collège Lous Riel. Others joined online using #RedforEdMB.
The groups' pleas to vaccinate teachers are far from alone.
"I am going to be frank, teachers are losing confidence that the government in this province really cares about them," James Bedford, President of Manitoba Teachers' Society says. "Enough talk already. Let's come forward, vaccinate those who are working in the public school system and I guarantee you that will go a whole lot further than (provincial ministers) standing up and saying 'we value you."
Well before the first vaccine landed on Manitoban soil, educators and parents alike have been advocating to vaccinate teachers. Bedford says parents are incredibly supportive of teachers and the past year that has been no exception.
Listen to the full interview with MTS President James Bedford here
As of Friday, teachers, along with other workers in specific industries, could be vaccinated if working in the Downtown East, Inkster East or Point Douglas South neighbourhoods in Winnipeg. Bedford says there is confusion about the eligibility of teachers, as there are many different groups of eligible people and teachers are of all ages, from 20s to 70s. The teaching population is currently skewing younger.
"Parents get it. We get it. Everybody but the government seems to get it. Something I have heard from teachers is the questioning, looking at what is going on in other provinces thinking 'what's different with Public Health in the province of Manitoba?"
The President is frustrated seeing Manitoba as one of the only provinces not to prioritize vaccinations in teachers, whereas its neighbours are. Teachers are thinking about how many students they are in contact each day with, and the families they go home to after the school bell rings.
"Now with the variant of concern public health is saying it is not about just the over 60, it is about everybody. Suddenly, teachers realize we are everybody. We are exposed to a large number of students on a daily basis and Public Health is saying the fastest-growing infection rates among 10-19 year old."
Teachers are highly motivated to follow the heath orders, keeping schools open. There are no current plans to close schools, something Bedford is glad to see.
"Keeping schools open means insuring a positive educational year for our children."
The province's Chief and Deputy Chief Public health Officer and the medical co-lead of the COVID-19 Immunization Task Force say there is very little transmission in schools.
"While teachers are working with kids every day, thankfully the measures that school have put in place, and the lower likelihood of kids transmitting the infection generally has meant that teachers are not as high risk as healthcare workers, for example," Dr. Joss Reimer says in a Friday press conference.
A recent study from the University of Manitoba has found children to transmit the COVID-19 virus less than older people.
Public Health has said they are seeing transmission in after-school socialization such as playdates and sleepovers, not in school.
Bedford says students maybe not contracting the virus at school, but there is a risk of asymptomatic infections.
Currently, approximately 7.9 thousand of the total 37,069 cases, or 21 per cent, are in Manitobans 19 years old and younger. The fastest-growing group of people with cases in Manitoba is those between the ages of 10-19, ages where almost the entire population would be in school. There is one school experiencing an outbreak with 12 student cases and two staff.