As students prepare to return to school in the fall, the White House on Thursday unveiled a new initiative aimed at increasing the lagging Covid-19 vaccination rates among young people, Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports for the New York Times.
Returning to in-person learning
CDC has urged schools to return to in-person learning in the fall, Stolberg reports. To support that goal amid the growing delta-driven surge in Covid-19 cases, the agency last month updated its safety guidance to recommend universal masking for students, teachers, visitors, and staff, regardless of vaccination status.
However, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said that masking is only a "temporary measure" and that the overall focus should be on increasing vaccinations. "What we really need to do to drive down these transmissions in the areas of high transmission is to get more and more people vaccinated and in the meantime, to use masks," she said.
According to CDC data, only 40.7% of adolescents ages 12 to 15 and 51% of adolescents ages 16 to 17 have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. So, as part of a broader "return to school road map," the White House has developed a new initiative to increase lagging vaccination rates among young people.
Focusing on physicals, education, and vaccination clinics
On Thursday, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona announced the initiative, which includes encouraging pediatricians to incorporate vaccination into sports physicals. A White House official, speaking anonymously with the New York Times, said the campaign encourages the "millions" of students who play sports to get vaccinated. Some school officials pointed out that if student athletes get vaccinated, they won't have to quarantine—and potentially forfeit games—after being exposed to someone infected with the coronavirus.
The official added that the White House has enlisted medical organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, to help with the initiative. The organizations will provide guidance for doctors and update forms needed for school physicals.
Further, according to the Times, the White House has declared this upcoming week a "week of action." The administration is partnering with community groups to coordinate texting and phone campaigns to encourage young people to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
President Joe Biden has already called on schools to help boost overall vaccination rates by asking every school district to host at least one vaccination clinic. And the Covid Collaborative, a bipartisan group of politicians and policymakers, has worked with the White House and educational organizations to encourage more school-based clinics.
School officials struggle against vaccine resistance
However, superintendents and other experts have said increasing vaccination rates among students will be difficult, Stolberg reports.
"When you look at a map of the United States and you see those states that have low vaccination rates and high infection rates, those are the areas where superintendents are having problems in getting kids vaccinated," Dan Domenech, the executive director of AASA: The School Superintendents Association, said.
School officials have faced difficulties on many fronts when it comes to vaccination, Stolberg reports. Some parents are reluctant to allow their children to be vaccinated and are against schools being used as vaccination sites, particularly in rural areas where there is already vaccine resistance.
"For people who are for it, it's an easy one—they support vaccination as a strong strategy to fight Covid, and they don't see any issue with the use of public space," Kristi Wilson, the superintendent for Buckeye Elementary School District in Arizona, said. "But the other side I'm hearing is, 'Where do you draw the line? Who's going to administer it? Even if public health does it, is it an appropriate use of space?' If you have a community that is very anti-vaccination, how do you manage that?"
Meanwhile, while some schools and school districts have already begun hosting vaccination clinics, demand for vaccinations among students is not always high.
For instance, a school district in Anchorage set up school vaccination clinics over the summer but vaccinated only around 30 students a day, according to Deena Bishop, the district's superintendent. "We're disappointed in the number of people coming out to get vaccinated," she said, "but we're just trying to think of new ways, new manners to connect." (Stolberg, New York Times, 8/5)