Suburban school districts step up efforts to vaccinate teens
As the school year winds down, several suburban school districts are ramping up efforts to get older students inoculated against the COVID-19 virus before they break for summer.
Several districts are planning mass vaccination events with the help of local pharmacies, health agencies and pediatric clinics to provide doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine -- FDA-approved for emergency use for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Educators are urging teens to get vaccinated before next school year. The push comes after weeks of rising COVID-19 cases statewide among young people.
As most public vaccination sites don't list which vaccine they are using when people sign up for appointments, having targeted events for teens helps increase access and the likelihood of voluntary participation, experts say.
Illinois residents 16 and older have been eligible for vaccination since April 12. Phase 5 of the state's recovery plan requires 50% of eligible residents to be vaccinated to achieve some semblance of normality.
Among the districts being proactive are Indian Prairie Unit District 204 in Naperville and Aurora, Libertyville-Vernon Hills High School District 128, Naperville Unit District 203 and Glenbrook High Schools District 225, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Stevenson High School District 125.
Many other districts are encouraging students to get vaccinated at events organized by municipalities, counties, health care providers and community groups.
For the past two weeks, PediaTrust has been vaccinating eligible Stevenson and other Lake County high school students at its Northbrook site. Families can sign up for appointments for a couple more weeks until doses run out.
Roughly 2,500 Stevenson students meet the age criteria for the vaccine, said Sean Carney, District 125 assistant superintendent for business services.
"We still are in a pandemic, and we think it's an important public service," he said. "If our students can be a little more comfortable, they are more likely to come back into school. We're concerned about the social and emotional well-being of our students. It can help bring down some of the anxiety (over in-person attendance)."
Right now, 30% of the school's 4,300 students are attending classes in person daily.
Officials at Stevenson and many other suburban districts still are weighing a full return to campus this fall. Vaccinating students is key for that to happen.
Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 are each partnering with Passport Health to provide student vaccinations on campus this month and in June for both Pfizer doses.
District 214 will host clinics at three of the district's six high schools. Officials said they will determine the sites once the results of a parent survey are in. They also will provide transportation to students from the other schools.
"While this clearly is an individual choice for students and their families, we have heard from numerous families who view vaccination as a key step in returning to normal activities and a much greater sense of normalcy overall," District 214 Superintendent David Schuler said.
Districts 203 and 204 are hosting joint vaccination clinics in partnership with Jewel-Osco pharmacy for eligible students on May 22 and June 12 covering both Pfizer doses at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville.
"We've had many students and families reach out to us asking if we can make this available," said Patrick Nolten, District 203 assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability.
Roughly 80% of District 203's 16,500 students are learning in person full-time, five days a week this spring. Its 4,800 high school students are on a half-day schedule.
"That's really our goal to open back up to a more routine school year with respect to in-person instruction this fall," Nolten said. "It will contribute to a greater sense of normalcy, less anxiety and less worry. People perform better when they are not worried about health risk. As authorization becomes available for younger children, will be providing access for families at that time."
Health experts anticipate the Pfizer vaccine likely will be approved for 12- to 15-year-olds by mid-May once vaccine trials are completed and possibly by late fall or early winter for the youngest children.
"We are doing outreach to middle schools," said Susan Sirota, board chairwoman for PediaTrust, which operates 12 Chicago-area pediatric practices. "This is going to be a long, ongoing process for kids. We have to keep educating people because children are approximately 25% of the population."
The group has been reaching out to health departments in Cook, DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties to secure vaccines for high school students there.
"We have some vaccine hesitancy but as pediatricians, we are experts in handling this," Sirota said. "We know how to partner with families and help them understand the value of vaccination. It really makes sense that we are the ones delivering the (COVID-19) vaccines to children and teens."