Athens City School District, or ACSD, is working to evaluate COVID-19 policies after the recent approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11 years old on Oct. 29.
ACSD Superintendent Thomas Gibbs said the schools are not requiring students to report their vaccination status, and he does not anticipate that the policy will change in the coming semester. However, students may be asked about their vaccination status in the event of exposure and contact tracing.
Cases among younger children have remained relatively low in Ohio, which the Athens City-County Health Department, or ACCHD, Administrator Jack Pepper described to be anecdotally applicable in the Athens area as well.
“What we're seeing in the really young kids is that they, of all of our age demographics, have seemed to manage the disease the best … that's our experience here. But we're just not seeing tons and tons of little kids getting particularly sick,” Pepper said.
All ACSD students are currently required to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status, to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. Gibbs said the district is working closely with the health department to determine COVID-19 policies going forward and is likely to continue requiring masks, despite increasing vaccinations.
“Their concern is, as activities move to be more indoors and also flu season is kind of starting up in earnest now, that the masks have done an excellent job of preventing spread of disease, especially in the school environment,” Gibbs said. “So they are encouraging us to continue with our mask policies for the foreseeable future.”
Cases within the schools have mimicked the trend among students, with minor outbreaks that represent a small proportion of the school population. Morrison-Gordon Elementary School has experienced 17 COVID-19 cases among approximately 400 students total.
ACCHD and ACSD have partnered in providing opportunities for as many young children as possible to receive vaccinations after the authorization, including two mass vaccination clinics targeting children in the five to 11 age range and various school-based clinics. Pepper reported nearly 650 children were reached through the clinics, in addition to those who scheduled individual appointments through the health department.
“Of course, we'd love it if everybody in that age demographic got vaccinated, but we also recognize that's not probably realistic,” Pepper said.
Pepper estimated around 30% to 35% of Athens children in the recently authorized age group are vaccinated. ACCHD plans to continue to offer vaccination clinics and appointments to meet local demand.
Gibbs indicated parents have mixed attitudes regarding vaccination, which has been observed in districts across the nation. However, he feels there has been a significant number of families expressing interest in getting their children vaccinated through the opportunities provided.
Pepper similarly acknowledged parental concerns, but expressed that so far there have been no adverse reactions among children in the area and pointed to the extensive amount of research and testing vaccines undergo before approval for market use.
“Vaccinating younger children against COVID-19 will bring us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a release about the vaccine authorization. “Our comprehensive and rigorous evaluation of the data pertaining to the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness should help assure parents and guardians that this vaccine meets our high standards.”