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Massachusetts urges active vaccination role for schools

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker visits a classroom in Gloucester in March 2021.
Nancy Lane
Boston Herald / Pool / State House News Service
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker visits a classroom in Gloucester in March 2021.

Massachusetts education and public health officials are "strongly" encouraging school districts and local officials to "take an active role" in COVID-19 vaccination for kids younger than 12.

Ahead of this month's anticipated arrival of COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11, Acting Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke and Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley wrote last week to school leaders to advise of "opportunities and resources to achieve increased vaccination rates in younger children and offer some considerations in planning your approach."

The Oct. 28 letter (PDF) recommended engaging now with parents and parent organizations to encourage vaccinations and provide resources, and working with athletic departments "to further encourage" the shots. It suggested partnering with local pediatricians who can speak at PTA meetings or sign onto communications.

"Since May, many schools have hosted COVID-19 vaccination clinics on campus, making vaccination convenient and easy for busy families," Riley and Cooke wrote. "We urge all schools to host on-site vaccination clinics once children ages 5-11 are eligible."

For the younger student populations, the commissioners recommended scheduling school clinics "immediately before or after school, in the evening, or on weekends so that a parent or guardian can accompany their child."

They outlined different options for school-based or local clinics, including partnering with municipal boards of health, area health care providers or the local Medical Reserve Corps, administering the vaccines at a school-based health center, or requesting (Google form) a mobile vaccine provider through the state.

The officials' letter came the same day that the national Kaiser Family Foundation published a new edition of its COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, which found that 27% of parents said they wanted to get their 5- to 11-year-old child vaccinated "right away" once a shot was authorized and available, while 33% said they planned to wait and see, 30% said they "definitely" would not and 5% said they would do so only if their school required it.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel is meeting Tuesday to consider Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, after the Food and Drug Administration's vaccine advisors voted last week to recommend emergency use authorization. Federal authorization of the shots would make about 515,000 children in Massachusetts eligible for vaccination, state health officials have said.

The latest federal data (PDF), as of Oct. 22, show 68.4% of the Massachusetts population age 12-17 is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 79.8% of that age group — or 380,725 people — having received at least one dose. Eighty percent of the 18-and-over population is fully vaccinated, and more than 10 million vaccine doses have been administered across the state.

Asked Monday about pediatric vaccine administration, Gov. Charlie Baker said he expects to see some "pop-up" clinics offered by sites like schools, but anticipates that pediatricians will "play a really big role in this."

"We are trying to focus on the pediatric community because they are in fact the ones who I think most parents will want to talk to about their kids," he said.

The governor said there had been more conversations about school clinics earlier this year when the shots became available for 12-year-olds and up, compared to the younger age group now being discussed.

"That may just be a function of the fact that most school districts have one high school or one or two junior highs and then many elementary schools, and they may view it as an easier thing from their point of view to have the pediatric community with more of a primary role," he said. "I also do think that the role of the pediatrician's going to be big in this one, given the age group we're talking about here."

In their letter, Cooke and Riley said pediatric primary care providers serve as "a good resource for parents in this age group for information and vaccination."

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education plans a Thursday afternoon webinar for school and district staff to discuss issues including pediatric vaccinations, COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

DESE posts weekly updates online of the number of new student and staff COVID-19 cases reported by schools and information on testing in K-12 schools. Last Thursday's report was not published "due to power outages across the state" as communities coped with wind and rainstorms, and the department plans to include the Oct. 21-27 data in its Nov. 4 report.

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