Some critics in Saskatchewan are questioning the requirement that parents be present for their children's in-school COVID-19 vaccinations, saying it may create barriers to getting younger kids vaccinated.
Earlier this month, the Saskatchewan Health Authority mandated that all children five to 12 must have a parent or guardian present for their COVID-19 vaccination.
For students in grades 5 and 6, that differs from the process for most in-school vaccinations. For other vaccines, students in those grades can bring a consent form and get their shot without a parent present.
Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman has previously said more misinformation has been circulating around COVID-19 vaccines, compared to other vaccinations.
As a result, the government wants to make sure children and parents are both comfortable with the shot, which is why they need to be present, Merriman said on Tuesday.
But Patrick Maze, the president of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, says this rule is likely to affect how quickly many kids will get their vaccinations.
"When we've got the government indicating that we want that five to 11 age category to get vaccinated, we should be making it as easy for parents as possible. And so one way to do that would be just allowing them to sign a consent form," he said.
Requiring parents to come into schools for their children's vaccines might also prove to be risky, he said.
"Right from the start of the pandemic, we haven't had … the ability to social distance in our schools. And so causing parents to have to come in order for their child to get vaccinated just makes that situation even worse."
Problem for working parents: psychiatrist
The Opposition has also spoken out against the mandate, with NDP education critic Carla Beck saying that requiring parents to be present for vaccinations instead of allowing the use of a consent form could be a problem for parents who work during the day.
Tamara Hinz, a psychiatrist who works with children and adolescents in Saskatoon, agrees.
"Many people have jobs that don't provide that kind of flexibility, and I don't want the children of those parents to be negatively impacted," she said.
"I think it comes on the heels of some other really confusing messaging from the minister of education, in terms of vaccinations and extracurricular activities. It's really compounding the confusion and mistrust surrounding COVID vaccinations and school-aged children."
In a letter sent to all school division board chairs in the province last month, Education Minister Dustin Duncan wrote that all students — including those who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines but haven't had their shots — should be allowed to fully participate in extra-curricular events, provided they don't have any COVID-19 symptoms and are not under an isolation order.
But in an interview with CBC Radio earlier this week, Duncan said a public health order would trump any directive from his office.