How Virginia plans to vaccinate middle and high school students

Allyn HodginsUncategorized


A school bus is seen at Granby High School in Norfolk on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020
A school bus is seen at Granby High School in Norfolk on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020 (The N. Pham / The Virginian-Pilot)

RICHMOND — More students will be able to get vaccines at schools across Virginia in coming weeks, state leaders say.

Teenagers can get the vaccine at sites across the state after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided Wednesday to allow the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 12. State-run centers will start vaccinating adolescents, in most cases accompanied by an adult and with parental permission, starting Friday.ADVERTISING

The state’s school-based vaccination effort is being mostly left in the hands of school districts to plan and execute. Only a handful of Hampton Roads schools have announced specific plans so far, and those have been for high school students.

With only a few weeks left in the school year and a three-week time span between the vaccine’s two doses, the clock is ticking. But state superintendent James Lane said in a news conference Thursday he expects more schools will announce plans soon.

“There has been a lot of work over the last few weeks in anticipation of this, to really connect with local schools, because we know that working through schools is our most effective way to get information out and to really get access to this segment of our community,” said Dr. Danny Avula, state vaccine coordinator.

There are no plans to mandate the vaccine for students. The Virginia Department of Education doesn’t think it has the authority; that would require action by the General Assembly.Previous coverage: Younger children in Hampton Roads can get Pfizer’s vaccine. Here is what parents should know. »

But Avula pointed to several reasons why adolescents and families should get it — not the least of which that teenagers can contract and spread COVID-19. Even though 25-40% of adolescents who contract the disease likely don’t show symptoms, over 72,000 Virginians between the ages of 10-19 have tested positive during the pandemic.

Vaccinating young people will decrease the disease’s transmission while protecting young people from rare but dangerous complications like multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a life-threatening inflammatory condition that some younger children have developed after contracting the disease.

“There are serious things that we want to protect against, so there’s an individual benefit,” Avula said. “There’s also clearly a community benefit, because as adolescents are vaccinated, it decreases the ability for them to contract COVID and to spread COVID.”

Student vaccines could help make school in fall run smoother. Schools will be required to offer full-time instruction for all students under state law, with some limited virtual options available.

Current CDC guidance says that students who come into close contact with a positive case and don’t develop symptoms don’t have to quarantine. Fewer quarantines will mean fewer multi-day or longer absences that disrupt in-person learning.

State leaders hope that giving vaccines at school will help get harder-to-reach populations vaccinated, like families that don’t have reliable transportation or parents who work long hours or multiple jobs. Parents will have to give permission, but parents who won’t have to be present for school-based clinics.

They also hope that providing more information about vaccination through students and schools will help reach families that don’t speak English.Previous coverage: Next week, eligible teens in Norfolk can get the Pfizer vaccine at their high schools »

Superintendents hadn’t heard about the state’s school vaccination plans until a conference call Tuesday, Lane said. He said that the VDOE’s school nursing liaison team was working to compile statistics.

The Pfizer vaccine has been available for students 16 and older for months. Norfolk and Portsmouth have partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to offer shots for students at their high schools. Portsmouth’s high school clinics planned for next week are open to ages 14-18.

Hampton is planning vaccine clinics at schools with the Hampton Health Department for students ages 12 and older. The district launched a survey on Thursday that will be open until Monday as part of their planning.

I think that all school divisions at a minimum are going to make sure that families are aware of where 12–15- and 16–18-year-olds can get the vaccine,” Lane said. “Almost every school division I’ve spoken to — which certainly is not a majority of the 132 at this point — but almost every school division that I have spoken to has plans to do something along the lines of having a clinic.”

There are multiple logistical issues to work out.

School divisions likely will need a partner, such as a health department or pharmacy, to administer the vaccine. Schools will need to get permission slips from parents in a short time frame, given that the end of school is only a few weeks away. They’ll also need to plan around required year-end standardized tests and student absences if they develop side effects after getting doses.

Although some smaller districts may not have the demand to justify clinics, Lane said, he said that all of the state’s superintendents on Tuesday’s call seemed on board with vaccinating students.

“It’s more logistical questions, and we addressed those,” Lane said. “I actually did not hear any concerns.”

Matt Jones, 757-247-4729,