COVID-19 Vaccines & Children: What does it mean for next school year?

COVID-19 Vaccines & Children: What does it mean for next school year?
Students at the middle and high school level, or even younger, may be eligible for a vaccine sometime this year. (Source: WVIR)

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - COVID-19 vaccines are now being tested in children, with students at the middle school level or even younger possibly able to get vaccinated just in time for the next academic year.

“We are one step closer to having a COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents so that is great news,” said Dr. Debbie-Anne Shirley, a pediatric infectious disease expert at UVA Health.

The Pfizer vaccine is said to be 100% effective in children ages 12-15. Shirley said other vaccines may prove to be just as good, putting us one step closer to heard immunity.

“Children account for about 20% of the US population, so that’s a big chunk, so if we can help to get that portion of the population immunized, it will help end this pandemic,” she said.

Once vaccines are available for children, however, Shirley said they will likely only be recommended to families, but not mandatory.

“It would be hard to mandate compulsory vaccination for school entry at this point, but certainly in the future as things unfold, that could certainly change and evolve,” Shirley explained.

Now, Albemarle County Public Schools is trying to measure how all of this will land on those responsible for making the decisions to bring more children into the classroom, as children may be eligible for vaccination come next school year.

“We’re surveying parents to better understand what they’re preferences are and what they’re thinking right now regarding their willingness to send children to school full time or whether they continue to prefer the online option,” said Phil Giaramita, a representative from the district. “We’re going to use that information plus that data that we continue to get from the health department about community transmission.”

Available vaccines could mean more students back in the classroom, something both Giaramita and Shirley say is necessary.

“There’s no question that the overwhelming sentiment among parents and even students is that learning in school is the most effective way,” Giaramita said.

“We are definitely seeing harm to children in really unprecedented rates of decline in emotional and mental health,” Shirley said. “We really want to get kids back in school, back to sports, back to activities as safely as we can while protecting them and the loved ones around them.”

Superintendent Matt Haas with Albemarle County will propose next steps regarding vaccines and in-person learning early next month.

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