École Georges-Vanier in Laval welcomed Grade 6 students on Monday who came by bus to be vaccinated. PHOTO HUGO-SÉBASTIEN AUBERT, LA PRESSE

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By MARIE-EVE MORASSE, La PresseLaPresse Torstar

Tue., June 8, 20213 min. read

MONTREAL – Many students over 12 will roll up their sleeves to get vaccinated over the next two weeks. In Laval, the focus is on peer encouragement between young people, and vaccinations are offered directly in high schools.

The gymnasium at Georges-Vanier high school in Laval did not host physical education classes on Monday, the day the school vaccination program was launched.

“The young people are stressed, I have been watching them for 45 minutes now and I can see that they are not sure,” said Jean Godin, the school principal.

It was hot in the gymnasium on Monday, but students lined up patiently with music playing at the temporary vaccination clinic, a scale model of a mass vaccination clinic. Even just seconds before being vaccinated, the students were, at least on the surface, relatively calm.

“I’m afraid of needles, but I’ll survive, I’m doing it for the cause,” said Alice Boily, 16.

Just behind her in line, 15-year-old Alain Azimov found that offering vaccinations at school was reassuring. “I see other friends doing the same thing,” he said.

Laval is one of the rare regions in Quebec that chose to hold clinics directly in schools rather than bussing students to mass vaccination centres.

“We wanted to focus on peer encouragement. If a student makes an appointment at a mass vaccination centre, they may not want to go alone. If 12 friends from their class go, they might join,” said Isabelle Parent, director of vaccinations at the regional health authority in Laval.

10 schools, two weeks

These temporary clinics require around 40 employees and are set up in a school for two days. In total, 10 schools in the Laval school board district will be visited, in addition to four schools from the private and English-language school boards. About 20,000 young people are to be vaccinated in Laval, including a few thousand from elementary schools.

The Georges-Vanier school welcomed Grade 6 students who came by bus on Monday morning.

“It’s safe for them. For the most part, these are high schools that they will attend next year,” said Yves-Michel Volcy, general director of the Laval school board.

Set apart from the vaccination area, large screens had been installed to discreetly accommodate any students who felt unwell because of the vaccine. Because the peer “interest effect” sought in young people can be broken at the mere sight of a person “falling apart,” Parent said.

At Georges-Vanier, it was estimated that about one in five young people did not want to be vaccinated. The reluctance among students mirrors that of society in general, said Parent.

“It’s a lot because of beliefs, cultural and so on. What they hear in the media, false information that reaches them. Sometimes, they will instead trust some guy who expressed his opinion on some website,” she added.

Nurses accustomed to school vaccination campaigns are therefore present in schools, ready to call parents to answer any questions they may have before giving their consent.

By receiving their first dose of vaccine, students are given a second appointment in a mass vaccination centre, a few weeks before the start of the school year. If the vaccination rate for the second dose is not high enough, the health authority will again consider vaccinating in Laval schools at the start of the school year to reach as many young people as possible.

Quebec’s condition for a return to schools in September – without wearing a mask, without physical distancing and without class bubbles – is that the vaccination coverage of 12- to 17-year-olds must reach 75 per cent by September.

Two-thirds of Quebecers vaccinated

Vaccination among young people is picking up speed as 65 per cent of Quebecers, or 5.6 million people, have received at least their first dose of vaccine. Of this number, 575,000 people, or 6.7 per cent of the population, have received two doses.

As vaccination continues, COVID-19 is losing ground. Quebec reported 194 new cases on Monday, bringing the daily average calculated over seven days to 234. It is a decrease of 35 per cent over one week.

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The drop in cases is being felt in hospitals, where pressure is clearly decreasing. There are currently 265 people hospitalized because of COVID-19, a decrease of 100 from a week ago. Of those hospitalized, 58 are in intensive care.

Deaths related to COVID-19 are also decreasing. Quebec reported an average of three deaths per day this week, compared to the previous average of five deaths per day.

– With Pierre-André Normandin, La Presse

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