Schools could become vaccination sites to help reach herd immunity

Posted at 5:52 PM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-19 17:52:17-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- A trip to Walgreens on her 16th birthday was something Kelsey Macaleese was eager to take, according to her mother, since it fell on the first day Virginia opened COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to people that age.

Health officials said for the Commonwealth to reach “herd immunity” against the virus, thousands of children statewide would need to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Hitting the jackpot, it’s like: I got an appointment for my kid, yay!” said Melissa Macaleese, Kelsey’s mother. “We got it close by; we got it on her birthday at a convent time, it was all good!”

“Both her and my son play on varsity sports teams for Deep Run High School. The thought of one of them getting it and then it would basically shut down their whole season. The team would have to pull out for two weeks while everyone quarantined. It was just so much pressure to stay healthy,” Melissa continued.

Virginia health officials said they are exploring “different operational strategies” to vaccinate younger Virginians.

In an interview over the weekend, Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccination coordinator, told CBS 6 they have been in contact with some school divisions about administering vaccines at school buildings.

“Schools are eligible to become approved CDC vaccination sites. I do see in our near future there will be a number of schools that, if not with their own staff vaccinating, then in partnership with a pharmacy or health department to come on sight at schools,” Dr. Avula said.

Currently, only the Pfizer COVID-19 shot is approved and available to those 16 and older in Virginia.

Dr. Avula said recent data from Pfizer studies of children as young as 12 show promising safety and efficacy data, and Virginia officials hope the shot will win authorization for those 12 and older in the coming months.

"Now, they do still need parental consent and will need a parent or guardian to be on-site with them,” Dr. Avula said of the procedures for minors getting the Pfizer shot currently.

Officials with Richmond, Chesterfield, and Hanover schools said they do not have plans in the works yet to expand any vaccination efforts at their facilities.

A spokesperson with Hanover County Schools said they have been approached about the idea and are open to it.

“In this ‘all of government’ approach the Northam administration is taking in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, Virginia Department of Health and other involved partners are considering different operational strategies in the planning for vaccination of school-aged children eligible for the vaccine,” a VDH spokesperson said when asked for details on planning vaccination sites at schools.

“I think if they could do it at a school, it would be fantastic,” Macaleese said.

Most of the parents Macaleese speaks with said they plan to get their child vaccinated when eligible. Despite some hesitation and the initial frustration of tracking down an appointment, she said getting Kelsey her first shot provides her family with more peace of mind.

“Every day it got easier and easier to get an appointment at different pharmacies or grocery stores. Even her pediatrician had gotten some,” she said. “At this point, I just feel like you have to trust in the science. I just feel she’d be worse off getting COVID.”