REGINA — The Saskatchewan government has introduced legislation that would ban COVID-19 protests within 50 metres of schools, including on sidewalks, as the province gets ready to roll out vaccination clinics for younger children in schools and other settings.
The legislation was introduced Monday to ensure families can enter schools without being harassed.
"Similar to the protections provided for patients, staff and families accessing our hospitals, it is important that our children, parents, teachers and staff are able to access schools in the province without fear of interference or intimidation," Education Minister Dustin Duncan said in a statement.
"In particular it is important to ensure our children do not feel scared or threatened."
The government said the proposed safe zone for schools would expire two years after it came into force.
Saskatchewan is to receive its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine for children Tuesday and is to begin vaccinations Wednesday.
The province is to receive 112,000 doses of the pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is nearly enough for the 115,000 children between the ages of five and 11 who are eligible.
Health Canada approved the vaccine for the age group last week and the first batch arrived in Canada on Sunday.
Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said parents in the province have a history of getting their kids immunized and he doesn't think the COVID-19 shot should be any different. Immunization rates for other childhood vaccines is between 90 and 95 per cent, he said.
"Parents have always gotten their kids vaccinated for other vaccine-preventable diseases. COVID is just another vaccine-preventable disease now, so it is up to parents to be comfortable and get their children vaccinated," Shahab said.
The vaccine is to be offered through 221 clinics in 141 communities andat more than 200 pharmacies. Clinics are to be set up in more than 100 schools as well.
The Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority is to take the lead to vaccinate children in 33 on-reserve communities in the province's north, while Indigenous Services Canada plans to immunize children from other First Nations at health centres and other facilities.
The province said such vaccine clinics will be held in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner, which may include providing interpreters, holding smudges, having elders available for support and translating vaccine information.
Dr. Tania Diener, lead medical health officer of immunization for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said children "make up a very large percentage of new cases in the province and in Canada."
The Public Health Agency of Canada has said children under 12 account for the highest rate of new COVID-19 infections.
"It's likely an underestimation, because we know they can be asymptomatic and ... spreading it," Diener said.
"It's very difficult to say when we might see an impact because of immunizing kids, but what we know for sure, (it) will help to break the transmission rate, to bring it down and stop this virus from spreading at the current rate in our communities."
The Saskatchewan government said the goal of its pediatric vaccination campaign is to reduce serious illness and death among all populations.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said the arrival of the vaccine is welcome news for families who want protection for their kids against serious disease.
"The immunization of this age cohort will also help to reduce transmission of the virus and ensure that children can continue to enjoy their friends and activities," Merriman said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2021.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press