As COVID-19 vaccinations begin to be administered to Washington’s youngest school-aged children this week, some of the largest school districts in the state are ramping up efforts to run their own vaccine clinics.
In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID, school districts are going to use their buildings during school hours, evenings and weekends to vaccinate students. Coronavirus testing programs at schools are also being launched to limit the virus’s spread and minimize the amount of in-person class time that is being lost.
And board members who govern the state’s largest district are talking about encouraging state health officials to mandate the vaccine for all students in the state to attend school.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final signoff to Pfizer’s vaccine for children 5 to 11, making all school-aged children eligible for a vaccine. According to the state Department of Health, 189 COVID outbreaks have occurred in Washington’s K-12 schools between Aug. 1 and Sept. 30.
Seattle Public Schools is offering two options for student vaccinations. Beginning Monday, the district will open 40 school clinics during school hours for the students enrolled at those specific schools. Parents and guardians can accompany their children but need to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test from the past 72 hours. Without a parent or guardian present, students will need signed or verbal consent.
There are also 14 regional clinics on evenings and weekends for Seattle students ages 5 and older. Students don’t have to be enrolled at a specific school to be vaccinated at the regional clinics and need a parent or guardian present.
Go to seattleschools.org/news/vaccine-clinic/#school to find times, dates and locations for Seattle school and regional clinics.
The Lake Washington School District will administer its first kid-sized doses on Saturday and Sunday. The district only received 1,800 doses, and not everyone who signed up secured an appointment, according to the district’s website.
Vaccine appointments at two Bellevue School District pop-up clinics on Friday and Saturday have also been filled. The district is working on organizing more clinics based on the demand, its website said.
Federal Way Public Schools partnered with OmLife Health to have mobile clinics for staff and students ages 5 and older at Todd Beamer High School on Nov. 13 and 20.
Coronavirus testing programs are also being rolled out at school buildings. Pierce County’s Orting School District on Monday will launch a testing program, Test to Stay, that was developed by the state Department of Health.
“The program provides districts across the state an opportunity to modify its COVID-19 quarantine protocols for unvaccinated K-12 students who identify on campus as close contacts and help reduce exclusion from schools,” Orting officials said.
Bellevue Schools is also rolling out a testing program that offers testing for students and staff who have symptoms or have been exposed to the coronavirus, and screening testing, a proactive approach that tests for the virus even though students and staff aren’t symptomatic or considered a close contact.
Seattle School Board members are considering taking COVID mitigation strategies a step further. A resolution urging the state Board of Health to add the COVID vaccine to the list of required vaccinations to attend school has been considered by the board twice.
Last month, the vote was delayed to give the district more time to do community outreach. Board members have since reached out to the Seattle Special Education PTSA, NAACP, Latinx Community with Public Health, Families of Color Seattle, the Somali community and Native American families.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, the board delayed the vote again.
“I personally wanted to be able to take the revised version back to them [the community] and check in to see if it’s reflective enough of what we discussed,” said Board President Chandra Hampson, who said she still supports the resolution. Other board members said they wanted time to discuss the resolution with families to minimize confusion.
The resolution asks the Washington State Board of Health to make COVID vaccinations a requirement for students ages 5 and up. The resolution says that requiring students to be vaccinated will create a safer environment at schools and allow more students to access in-person learning, and notes that there have been higher coronavirus rates among Seattle students furthest from “educational justice — in particular, those communities with the highest number of Black male students.”
The state Board of Health is working with the state Department of Health to begin convening a technical advisory group to consider adding the COVID vaccine to the list of immunizations for students, said Kelie Kahler, a spokesperson for the state Board of Health. The board “anticipates” holding a briefing in January during its public meeting to discuss the progress of the advisory group.
School districts in Washington don’t have the authority to require that students get a particular vaccine — that authority rests with the state. But in California, some of the largest school districts have already taken steps to require student coronavirus vaccinations.
Los Angeles Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District require students 12 and older to receive the vaccine to attend in-person school. The San Diego Unified School District requires students 16 and older to be vaccinated.
Last month, California became the first state in the country to announce a plan to add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of immunizations to attend in-person school for middle and high school children.