By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
With only one-fourth of Kentucky’s eligible school children vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Andy Beshear said it best when he said “that’s not enough.”
”As we go back to school, we’re going to need to see those numbers increase,” the governor said last week.
The state Department for Public Health reports 85,610 youth aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the only one approved for those 12 to 15.
U.S. Census Bureau says that number is about 25 percent of the 12-17 age group in Kentucky. The Kids Count Data Center, using data, says there were 341,365 children 12 to 17 in the state in 2019.
Beshear and others have said it is imperative that eligible students get fully vaccinated to not only keep children safe, but to ensure an uninterrupted school year, since those who are not fully vaccinated will have to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus, potentially shutting down classrooms and sporting events.
It’s also important to remember that children under 12 will not be vaccinated, he said, although that is expected to change in the fall. Pfizer has said it expects to request emergency authorization approval for its vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 in September or October, WebMD reports.
”So what we’re doing is we’re trying to plan with superintendents of each school district, back-to-school vaccination clinics, and you know, scaling them out” to allow students to be fully vaccinated before school starts, Beshear said.
School districts across the state are working on these clinics and are using varied approaches to get the vaccine to students. Some have partnered with a company called Wild Health through a state contract, while others appear to be depending on their local health departments and community health partners, such as federally qualified health centers, to get it done.
School nurses and the vaccine
While most health departments are no longer in the business of providing and funding school nurses, at least one of them still does, and is using them to get students vaccinated against COVID-19.
Denise Beach, public health director at the Hopkins County Health Department in Madisonville, said it will use school nurses to immunize students who are on Medicaid, uninsured or under-insured against the coronavirus, with parental consent. She said the department provides a nurse in each of the county’s 14 schools.
This summer, Beach said, the health department is offering the vaccine at the health department and to students who attend summer school.
”I really encourage everyone to get their children vaccinated . . . and I hope that they trust their medical provider, and not social media,” she said.
And like Beshear, Beach stressed that it’s important for families to know that if a student is fully vaccinated, which means two weeks after their second dose, they will not be quarantined if they are exposed to the virus.
She said quarantines in the last school year caused a lot of frustration for families, especially if they missed important school events like games or graduation, “so this will certainly help next year with students being able to remain in school, and with students being able to continue with their after school or other activities.”
Students do not tend to get as sick as adults when they get COVID-19, she said there is some risk that they could get a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome or that they can pass it on to someone who is more susceptible to severe illness.