Illinois school districts will likely serve as hubs to deliver the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, which is expected to be available in the coming weeks, officials said Thursday.
The White House unveiled plans Wednesday in preparation for the pending FDA authorization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of the Pfizer vaccine for elementary school-aged children, including the distribution of the shots at school and community-based clinics, which will receive funding and support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Officials at Elgin-based School District Unit 46, which enrolls more than 37,000 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, hope to offer vaccination sites once the shots are approved, Superintendent Tony Sanders said Thursday.
The district previously held a mass vaccination clinic at one of its high schools for the H1N1 virus, and it held a COVID-19 clinic at its central office building earlier this year, when the vaccines were limited to residents 65 and older and educators, he said.
While the shots are not mandatory, Sanders said he hopes families will speak with their child’s doctor about the safety of the vaccine and the importance of getting inoculated.
“If we ever want to return to any sense of normalcy, and if families want their children to be in school without fear of quarantine on a regular basis, the vaccine is our best option to get there,” Sanders said.
Officials at Chicago Public Schools said in a statement they have “been working with partners to provide access to the vaccine through regional clinics, school-based health centers and school-based mobile events across the city, and we will expand those efforts to include 5- to 11 year-olds as soon as approval is given by the federal government.”
CPS also plans to begin “a robust public information campaign to communicate that the vaccine is safe, effective and crucial to protect the health of CPS parents, students, staff and all of our school communities,” the statement said.
Chicago Teachers Union spokesperson Chris Geovanis said the union “has repeatedly urged the mayor to establish a comprehensive COVID vaccination program in every school, because every student, parent and family member in our school communities needs the critical protection that vaccines provide against COVID disease and death.”
Geovanis said union members have set up vaccine access events and provided testing opportunities for students and their families.
“We continue to urge everyone who can get vaccinated safely to do so, as we have since vaccines first became available,” Geovanis said. “The need is dire.”
At Arlington Heights School District 25, students 12 and older whose families chose for their children to be vaccinated were offered the shots at a school-based distribution site earlier this year that will likely be replicated once the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for younger children, spokesman Adam Harris said.
Students 12 and older at Des Plaines School District 62 were vaccinated at school-based clinics earlier this year, and officials are “discussing the possibility of hosting a clinic for children next month, depending on the outcome from the FDA,” spokesperson Jennifer Bova said.
Officials with one of the state’s largest teachers unions, the Illinois Education Association, said they are encouraged by the possibility that younger students might soon have a chance to get vaccinated.
“It means we are another step closer to making our schools the healthiest and safest places possible for both our students and educators,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said.
She said a vaccine for younger students could also allow the return of extracurricular activities, including theater and indoor sports, that may have been restricted because of COVID-19.