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Urban School Districts Host Vaccination Clinics for Ages 5-11

  • Wearing a Superman face mask to get his first shot against the coronavirus, 9-year-old Bryce Malone drew an audible, deep breath and squeezed his eyes closed tight – but just for a second. Then it was over.

    “It didn’t hurt that bad,” said Malone, a fourth-grader at Kerrick Elementary School in Louisville, Ky. “It was better than the flu shot.”

    Bryce was one of nearly 5,000 students from Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools who recently received the Pfizer vaccine at one of the 24 vaccination clinics the district held after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds. 

    “We’re thrilled with the massive response to these clinics,” said Dr. Eva Stone, manager of Jefferson County Public Schools’ Health Services, in a story on the district’s website. “The turnout is a solid indication of how important this effort is to our families, and we’re proud to make vaccinations accessible and convenient. We know that parents have been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to give these potentially life-saving measures to their children.”

    A follow-up clinic for the second dose of the vaccine was held in early December. According to district officials, just over half of the students in the district are newly eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, with more than 48,200 children in the 5 to 11 age group.  

    Jefferson County Public Schools is not the only big-city school district holding vaccination clinics for younger students, in  response to the CDC approving COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5 to 11. Texas’ Austin Independent School District recently partnered with Vax Together Austin, a local nonprofit, to host a vaccine clinic for students ages 5 to 11 at the district’s Performing Arts Center.

    The students receiving their shots had some company in the form of three four-legged friends named Skye, Lyla and Bobby. The therapy dogs were provided by the Dog Alliance to make the vaccine process less intimidating for children.

    “We have a lot of children that are holding the dogs while they get their vaccine, or they’ll ask to see the dog right after to calm down again,” Sharon Cohan, executive director and founder of Vax Together Austin, said in an interview with television station KXAN.

    According to district officials, more than 250 students were vaccinated at the clinic and the school system will continue to partner with Vax Together Austin to hold several more districtwide vaccine clinics for students.

    Hawaii Department of EducationIn November, the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) held its first school-based vaccination clinic for 5- to 11-year-olds at Kalihi Uka Elementary, providing shots for several dozen students in a partnership with Safeway Pharmacy.

    “We’re grateful and excited to be the first public school to hold a vaccination clinic for younger students,” said Derek Santos, principal of Kalihi Uka, in a story on the district’s website. “This adds another layer of protection for our school and broader community, where a lot of our students come from multi-generational homes.”

    More than 100 schools are registered to host vaccination clinics for 5- to 11-year-olds in the coming weeks. As of the start of the 2021-22 school year, there were approximately 83,000 students in the 5 to 11 age range enrolled in district schools.

    In partnership with the Department of Health and health service providers, HIDOE has hosted more than 150 school-based clinics statewide since May, when vaccines were approved for adolescents. 

    As with school-based clinics for older students, many of the school sites for 5- to 11-year-olds will be designed and operated as "closed" sites that accommodate only their enrolled students. This is to ensure safety when clinics are run during school hours. 

    Elizabeth Lugo signed up her daughter to be vaccinated at school. “For me, personally, it’s a layer of added protection for me and my family,” Lugo said. “At first, we were a little hesitant, but after having a talk with our pediatrician, she highly recommended it. I have been waiting for the chance to get my daughter vaccinated ever since.”

    “If I get the vaccination, I will be more safe; and when I get sick, I will still be protected from the virus,” said Lugo’s 8-year-old daughter, Milena, who is a third-grader at Kalihi Uka.

    Under the HIDOE and Hawaii Department of Health’s guidance for schools, students and staff who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19 and have no symptoms.

    Chicago Provides the Day Off to Encourage Vaccinations

    In an effort to encourage families to get their children immunized, Chicago Public Schools closed all of its schools on Nov. 12 for “Vaccination Awareness Day.” 

    “As the parent of two children in the 5- to 11-year-old age group, I cannot wait for my kids to be vaccinated, and I want to make sure other parents don’t have to wait either,” said Chicago Schools Chief Executive Officer Pedro Martinez in a news statement. “I hope that our CPS families will use Vaccination Awareness Day as an opportunity to take their children to the pediatrician, to a local pharmacy, or to one of many CPS school or community-based health providers to get them protected against COVID-19.”

    On Nov. 10, the nation’s third-largest school district began offering the Pfizer vaccine for students ages 5 to 11 at youth and family COVID-19 vaccination clinics and mobile clinics, as well as at school-based health centers. Students who receive their vaccines are eligible for $100 in Visa gift cards (a $50 card for each dose).

    In addition, 5- through 11-year-olds can now be vaccinated in the comfort of their homes through the Protect Chicago at Home program. Up to 10 people at once can be vaccinated at their homes by appointment, and anyone who gets vaccinated (both the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available) will receive a $100 Visa gift card.

    Buffalo District Receiving 10,000 Vaccines

    New York’s Buffalo Public Schools has averaged 50 COVID-19 cases a day, according to district officials.

    In an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the 34,000-student district and help keep schools open, Buffalo Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash is encouraging eligible students to get the vaccine, and he is getting some help from New York officials.

    At a recent Community Town Hall, Cash announced that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has pledged to send the school system 10,000 COVID-19 vaccines for the district to distribute to students and their families.

    Once the vaccines are received, the district plans to open vaccine clinics at 30 community schools, which are open after school and on Saturdays. The district has administered approximately 2,700 vaccines at nine Saturday community school academies.

    “It has to come from schools,” said Cash, according to television station WKBW. “It has to come to where the families trust, where the kids know people, and when we do that outreach, now, they'll say OK, we trust the schools about this -- because there's a lot of hesitancy.”