Thousands of Okanagan students, teachers, and staff can soon get a COVID-19 vaccination shot at their school.
Immunization clinics have been set up for six Kelowna area schools, three Vernon schools, and three Penticton schools.
About 80 school-based clinics have been organized for the Interior Health region in the next two weeks, reflecting a determination to elevate a worryingly low vaccination rate among young people.
Only 56% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 in Kelowna have had the necessary two vaccination shots. The comparable rates are 60% in Penticton and 53% in Vernon.
It's even lower in places like Merritt, at 39%, and in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, at 34%.
"We are quite concerned about the low vaccination rates among the 12-to-17-year-olds," BC Teachers' Federation president Terri Mooring said in late August. "(They) are lagging behind quite significantly the rest of the public."
The teachers' union has said it would not oppose a mandatory vaccination requirement for teachers, but the government has no plans to introduce such a measure.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said the move isn't necessary because the overall risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools is very low, and vaccination rates among adults have climbed significantly in recent months.
Children between 13 and 17 do not need parental permission to get vaccinated under the so-called 'mature minor' legislation, the government says. "The health care provider giving the vaccine decides if the child can consent on their own," the B.C. Centre for Disease control website states.
But children who are 12 "will usually need a parent/guardian to provide consent", the BC CDC says.
Here are the dates for upcoming school-based immunization clinics in the Okanagan:
Rutland Secondary, Sept. 21; Rutland Middle, Sept. 21; KLO Middle, Sept. 24; Dr. Knox, Sept. 23; Const. Neil Bruce, Sept. 22; George Elliot Secondary, Sept. 16
Penticton Secondary, Sept. 15; Penticton Secondary Alt, Sept. 15; Princess Margaret Secondary, Sept. 22
Vernon Secondary, Sept. 16; Clarence Fulton Secondary, Sept. 30; W.L. Seaton Secondary, Sept. 23
For the full list of school locations and times, see the Interior Health webpage on COVID-19 immunization clinics.