Teen spirit: Adolescents roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine

Kathleen Manalastas, a Candidate for the Profession of Nursing (CPN) who will be working at the Jewish General Hospital, administers a shot to a high-school student at the Bill-Durnan Arena vaccination site of our CIUSSS.
Kathleen Manalastas, a Candidate for the Profession of Nursing (CPN) who will be working at the Jewish General Hospital, administers a shot to a high-school student at the Bill-Durnan Arena vaccination site of our CIUSSS.

The presence of knapsacks, earphones and plenty of jostling teenagers at the Bill-Durnan Arena in June was a sign that youth vaccinations were under way in earnest across Quebec. And our CIUSSS was prepared.

From stress balls to distraction techniques, injectors and other staff were making sure the rollout of vaccinations for 12-to-17-year-olds unfolded smoothly—and without anxiety.

“We put everything in place to make it a positive experience, and to calm fears,” says Sonia Boccardi, Associate Director of our CIUSSS’s COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign.

Vaccination through schools at our mass vaccination sites took place during the weeks of June 7 and 14, part of a province-wide effort to ensure that 75 per cent of 12-to-17-year-olds got vaccinated with a first dose by the end of the school year, and with a second dose by the time school resumes in late August.

By the end of the school vaccination campaign, 50 per cent of 12-to-17-year-olds in coverage area of the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal had received their first shot.

To each those numbers, our CIUSSS worked hand in hand with area schools. It was a large-scale operation—there are 58 high schools with nearly 27,000 students in our coverage area. Managers and support staff from the Healthy Schools Program, along with other CIUSSS departments, devised extensive plans for each private and public school.

“It wasn’t an easy task given the number of schools on our territory,” said Robert Gervais, Associate Director of the Frontline Integrated Services Directorate. “But we’re very proud to say that we succeeded in our goal, thanks to the great cooperation from all the schools. We’re grateful to have them as partners.”

Some students received vaccinations directly in their schools, while others were bussed to our CIUSSS’s vaccination sites. On one day in June, several of the students at the Bill-Durnan Arena had walked over from their nearby high-school, École secondaire La Voie, and were excited to be there. After a difficult year, the COVID-19 vaccine was seen as a ticket to resuming team sports and social gatherings that were put on hold during the pandemic.

But vaccinations can cause anxiety among some teens, and staff had methods to make the process easier. Soft, squeezable balls were on hand in case teens needed something to relieve stress, and vaccinators smoothed the process by engaging in easygoing conversation about favourite school activities or sports.

Students who needed a little extra support could get their shot inside a curtained-off area with reclining chairs and stretchers. They were offered stickers or pencils with colourful erasers after receiving their shot.

Sherssery Anum, a Nurse from the Centre hospitalier de l'université de Montréal (CHUM), stands outside a curtained-off area at the Bill-Durnan site that was set up for those who want privacy or feel anxiety.
Sherssery Anum, a Nurse from the Centre hospitalier de l’université de Montréal (CHUM), stands outside a curtained-off area at the Bill-Durnan site that was set up for those who want privacy or feel anxiety.

“Sometimes the anticipation and anxiety of the vaccine can create a little nervousness,” said Sherssery Anum, a Nurse from the Centre hospitalier de l’université de Montréal (CHUM) who was working at the Bill-Durnan site.

A study found that two-thirds of children and a quarter of adults are afraid of needles; reports also indicate that fainting can be common among adolescents after vaccination.

Staff at our CIUSSS were ready for that possibility.

“It there’s a need, we let them lie down for a few minutes, enough time for them to recuperate,” Ms. Anum said. She noted that stress-related reactions are short-lived.

Several of the high-school students at the Bill-Durnan site in June said they found the vaccinations easier than they’d anticipated. As they waited the compulsory 15 minutes after receiving their shot, several played video games on their phones, listened to music through earphones, or spoke excitedly about the experience with their schoolmates. “It was pretty much a breeze,” one said.

Mr. Gervais, who is responsible for Child and Family, Birthing Centre, and Youth and Asylum Seekers (PRAIDA), said he was proud of the campaign’s success. “My admiration and gratitude go out to everyone who worked so hard to make this operation unfold successfully,” he said. “Thank you all for your numerous hours and your devotion in working towards our goal to protect our youth.”

Vaccinations for young people continue through the summer at our vaccination site, by appointment. Those aged 12 and 13 need the consent of a parent or legal guardian to be vaccinated, while teenagers 14 years of age and older can give their own consent.

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