Friday, November 26, 2021

Schools lead the way in promoting vaccines to youth

With the approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for young children, many elementary schools across the US are gearing up to offer vaccinations that educators see as key to getting students to learn in person and bringing classroom learning closer to what it used to be.

Some district leaders say providing vaccines on campus with trusted school staff is key to improving access and helping to overcome doubts, especially in communities with low overall vaccination rates.

However, many school systems choose not to host primary schools for vaccination sites after some middle and high schools that did offer vaccinations were refused.

More than 250 families signed up for vaccinations, which began Thursday at Duluth, Minnesota elementary schools, which set up clinics just after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave final confirmation of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 5-11 years. Superintendent John Magas called vaccines a “tipping point.”

“This brings us one step closer to moving from a pandemic to an endemic,” Magas said. “It allows us to rethink things like social distancing, camouflage and the like, to the extent that security permits.”

The Biden administration plans to send a letter to US elementary schools next week asking them to host clinics. The Department of Education is also encouraging schools to host town halls and webinars where parents can talk to doctors about the vaccine.

According to Hayley Midwin, a senior adviser for the Department of Education, counties that have hosted or are planning early childhood clinics stretch from Alaska to Vermont. If schools choose not to host clinics, families can go to doctors, hospitals, and other locations.

“There are many hotspots, and to be honest, there is no wrong door,” Midwin said.

In Ohio, some school districts offer high school clinic services, but Rick Lewis, director of the Ohio School Board Association, said they hadn’t heard of any districts planning them for elementary school students. He noted that the CDC encourages districts to consider factors such as local needs for school health centers and adequate community support.

School vaccination campaigns have met with resistance and protests in Ohio and elsewhere, and some opponents say they plan to continue to pressure as the vaccination focus shifts to younger students.

Sarah Kenney of Mainers for Health and Parental Rights argues that schools should not participate or even talk to young children about the vaccine. She worries about its novelty and the potential for long-term side effects.

A Pfizer study of 2,268 children found the vaccine was nearly 91% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections. The FDA has tested 3,100 vaccinated children and concluded the vaccinations are safe.

Kenny also expressed concern about stigma against children who do not receive vaccines.

“It was quite difficult for adults to navigate these conversations and personal decisions, we should not pass it on to our children,” she said.

Parents must give permission for their children to be vaccinated. Vaccines are usually administered before or after school in collaboration with local hospitals and government health authorities.

Public schools in Chicago, the nation’s third largest county, closed the school on Nov. 12 to give parents the opportunity to vaccinate their children at a health facility or school.

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In Portland, Oregon, vaccines will be offered in eight elementary schools starting next week in high-poverty areas where families are more likely to face barriers such as access to health care or transportation, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said.

In the wake of California’s decision to make vaccines mandatory for children, Portland was among the counties looking to do the same. A recent meeting of the Board of Education to discuss such a possibility was disrupted by a group of protesters. For this reason, security personnel will be at the vaccination sites and their times and dates will not be released outside the local community, said Courtney Westling, the district’s director of government relations.

“Schools are the trusted hub of the community,” she said. “In general, families feel completely safe in these schools. We also do not ask for IDs or insurance cards. We don’t want people to be afraid of ICE or anything like that. We’re just trying to vaccinate people to leave some of this behind and return to some semblance of normalcy. ”

In Hartford, Connecticut, school principal Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said the vaccination clinics he plans in conjunction with local hospitals will include school nurses who are trusted by families. Only a third of the district’s students 12 years of age and older are vaccinated.

“We are taking a position of fairness here and thinking about access and removing any obstacles our families may have,” she said.

In neighboring Tolland, Connecticut, school principal Walter Willett said his district is also teaming up with health care providers, including UConn Health, to offer school vaccines to younger students. He said vaccines are important not only for keeping children in school, but also for teachers, janitors and other staff, who tend to be at greater risk.

“They can do their jobs more efficiently when children do not jump into and out of the classroom in quarantine,” he said.

Liz Hamel, vice president of public opinion research and polling at KFF, a nonprofit health research organization, said their recent polls show that parents are more likely to accept vaccine information from their pediatrician than from government or educational sources.

“And one thing we found in adolescents is that most parents did not want their school to require the vaccine, but if their school provided information or encouraged students to get vaccinated, those parents were more likely to say their child was getting the vaccine. vaccine. ,” she said.

Sam Vallee, a 9-year-old boy from Old Saybrook, Connecticut, said he had pestered his parents for months, asking when he would get the vaccine.

“Right now, I can’t go to a restaurant without him,” he said. “I can’t go to the store without a mask. I can’t do a lot of things. “

Sam’s quest will end soon. His mother says his vaccination is scheduled for Wednesday.

___

Associated Press contributors Colleen Binkley of Boston and Michael Melia of Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.

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