A playground outside Weledeh Catholic School. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Parents of some NWT children aged five to 11 are being asked to volunteer their family for inclusion in an at-home Covid-19 screening program for kids.
Each week, the territorial government will select a random sample of 10 percent of students for testing using a rapid response kit that parents or children can administer at home. Families in Yellowknife, Ndilǫ, Dettah, Hay River, Behchokǫ̀, and Inuvik are included.
This program is being offered in settings where there is the highest risk for large-scale community spread – in the territory’s largest elementary schools along with any smaller school in proximity to large outbreak centers. Included in the program are 12 schools in total, in Yellowknife, Hay River, Behchokǫ̀, Inuvik, Ndilǫ and Dettah.
The test – Panbio, manufactured by Abbott – “involves a simple swab in the lower region of the nose, which offers immediate test results,” the territory said in a Monday news release.
Only school administrators will have access to identifiable results. Anonymized data will be handed to the NWT’s Department of Health and Social Services.
“The goal of this program is to maintain ongoing testing among asymptomatic children to detect the early infection and prevent further transmission of Covid-19 in schools,” the territorial government said, explaining why the program was being launched.
“The program will continue until a vaccine is widely available to this population and uptake is high enough.”
The territory says the pilot program can only launch if enough people take part – 10 percent of the student population per week. The six communities and 12 schools involved were chosen because of the high risk of “large-scale community spread” in those areas, the news release stated.
If you want to sign up and your child’s school is participating, you’ll get information about next steps from the school principal by email, the territory said.
If a child taking part in the program tests positive, they will be sent to a health centre or Covid-19 screening centre for confirmation and must isolate in the meantime.
Acknowledging that many children have little to no desire to be tested for Covid-19, territorial officials stressed the importance of the program as schools in some communities badly hit by the current outbreak, such as Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀, prepare to reopen.
“This home monitoring program is an important part of the safe return to school plans,” said Dr Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, in a statement.
“This non-invasive test, performed at home, will help keep our children safe from a potential outbreak while ensuring in-class learning is maximized.”
The NWT government said similar approaches were being used elsewhere in Canada.
“The Department of Health and Social Services acknowledges that these tests may be uncomfortable for children, and that many students have been tested for Covid-19 and may not be eager to sign up for more,” Monday’s news release stated.
“It is important to realize that this program will be instrumental in allowing schools to return to in-person learning.”
There remains no approved vaccine for children younger than 12, though gradual steps toward one continue.
Earlier this month, Pfizer-BioNTech submitted initial data to Health Canada regarding use of its Comirnaty vaccine in children aged five to 11. A full submission to Health Canada from the company was received on Monday, the federal agency said.
“This is the first submission Health Canada has received for the use of a Covid-19 vaccine in this younger age group,” Health Canada said in a statement.
“Health Canada will only authorize the use of Comirnaty if the independent and thorough scientific review of all the data included in the submission showed that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the potential risks in this age group. The assessment will include a detailed review of clinical trial results, as well as other evolving data and information about the health impacts of Covid-19 and variants of concern on children in Canada.
“Studies with the Comirnaty vaccine are ongoing in children less than five years of age, and other manufacturers are also testing their vaccines in children of various age ranges. Health Canada expects to receive data for review in the coming months.”