Are schools now encouraging vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-old students?
Principal Jaime Stone respects families’ choices on COVID vaccinations, but it’s clear where her administration stands on inoculations with a wider range of students now eligible.
“We hold clinics during the school day, which means we value this enough to remove students from some academic time to do this—and we know we’ll get better participation,” says Stone, principal of Camden-Rockport Middle School in Maine.
The middle school held its first clinic for 5- to 11-year-olds on Nov. 11. “That was awesome; it was a really uplifting and hope-filled experience,” Stone says, “Students were feeling a sense of relief from worry and stress—a lot of them talked about being excited for sleepovers and not wanting their grandparents to get sick.”
Also as of that date, about half of the schools’ 5th- and 6th-graders had registered to get vaccinated. The school’s student council, which is mostly made up of the younger students, has also mounted an immunization campaign with the theme “getting vaccinated is not as scary as getting COVID.”
As of mid-November, 90% of the school’s 8th-graders and 80% of 7th-graders had gotten vaccinated. The school, part of Camden Rockport Schools, has focused on providing education and information rather than pressure around immunizations. A local hospital has also been holding Zoom sessions to answer parents’ questions about vaccines.
“We’re in a part of Maine where people believe in science,” Stone says. “What we talk about is the science, and that’s all we really talk about. We don’t talk about the politics related to it. We don’t talk about conspiracy theories.”
The school has been open for in-person instruction except for spring 2020, when the initial COVID outbreak shut down the U.S. education system. “Our staff has made major sacrifices with restricting travel and testing while traveling,” Stone says, “and parents have been great partners in their willingness to keep children home when sick, and our schools have stayed open.”
About 330 students got their first vaccination dose earlier this month when Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina held its first clinic for younger students. It hosted another clinic on Nov. 16 in partnership with the local health department, Superintendent Nyah Hamlett says.
The district’s communications department is sharing information with families about the benefit of vaccinations in keeping the entire community safe. The district has seen less resistance because it sits in the state’s research corridor and many parents work in healthcare fields. Still, the district continues to mandate masks indoors and outside and conducts COVID testing in its schools.
“I know that masking has been a tremendous help,” Hamlett says. “The more people who get vaccinations, the more we adhere to all the protocols, we’ll see less need for quarantine or shutting down a classroom or school. We’re in pretty good shape.”
In Colorado, the Poudre School District has worked with county and state health departments to host vaccine clinics inside and outside its schools, says Madeline Noblett, the executive director of communications.
“PSD is not requiring staff or students to be vaccinated; however, the district is encouraging it,” Noblett said in an email.