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Only 25% of Ky. students have received COVID vaccine

With only one-fourth of Kentucky’s eligible school children vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Andy Beshear said it best when he said “that’s not enough.”

“As we go back to school, we’re going to need to see those numbers increase,” the governor said at his weekly news conference Thursday, July 8.

The state Department for Public Health reports 85,610 youth aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the only one approved for those 12 to 15.

That number is about 25% of the 12-17 age group in Kentucky. The Kids Count Data Center, using U.S. Census Bureau data, says there were 341,365 children 12 to 17 in the state in 2019.

Beshear and others have said it is imperative that eligible students get fully vaccinated to not only keep children safe, but to ensure an uninterrupted school year, since those who are not fully vaccinated will have to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus, potentially shutting down classrooms and sporting events.

It’s also important to remember that children under 12 will not be vaccinated, he said, although that is expected to change in the fall. Pfizer has said it expects to request emergency authorization approval for its vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 in September or October, WebMD reports.

“So what we’re doing is we’re trying to plan with superintendents of each school district, back to school vaccination clinics, and you know, scaling them out” to allow students to be fully vaccinated before school starts, Beshear said.

School districts across the state are working on these clinics and are using varied approaches to get the vaccine to students. Some have partnered with a company called Wild Health through a state contract, while others appear to be depending on their local health departments and community health partners, such as federally qualified health centers, to get it done.

School nurses and the vaccine

While most health departments are no longer in the business of providing and funding school nurses, at least one of them still does, and is using them to get students vaccinated against COVID-19.

Denise Beach, public health director at the Hopkins County Health Department in Madisonville, said it will use school nurses to immunize students who are on Medicaid, uninsured or under-insured against the coronavirus, with parental consent. She said the department provides a nurse in each of the county’s 14 schools.

This summer, Beach said, the health department is offering the vaccine at the health department and to students who attend summer school.

“I really encourage everyone to get their children vaccinated . . . and I hope that they trust their medical provider, and not social media,” she said.

And like Beshear, Beach stressed that it’s important for families to know that if a student is fully vaccinated, which means two weeks after their second dose, they will not be quarantined if they are exposed to the virus.

She said quarantines in the last school year caused a lot of frustration for families, especially if they missed important school events like games or graduation, “so this will certainly help next year with students being able to remain in school, and with students being able to continue with their after school or other activities.”

Students do not tend to get as sick as adults when they get COVID-19, she said there is some risk that they could get a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome or that they can pass it on to someone who is more susceptible to severe illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Kentucky was one of the states with 50 to 99 reported cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome through June 28.
Jefferson County Public Schools announced Sunday that they would continue to require unvaccinated students and staff to wear masks, but many other districts seem unlikely to do so. Beach said that with the state mask mandate being eliminated in schools, being vaccinated is even more important.
“We know that when children get together without masks, there is still a lot of risk,” she said, pointing to a recent outbreak at a church camp in her community that resulted in 15 positive cases in both children and adults that ended up quarantining over 100 people.
“Quarantine is still here,” she said. “We’re still doing disease investigation, contact tracing.”

School vaccine clinics planned

Matt Hunt, public health director of the Barren River District Health Department, said it does not carry the Pfizer vaccine, so it is anxiously awaiting approval of the Moderna vaccine for children 12 to 17. Moderna requested the emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in early June.

Hunt said his agency plans to roll the Moderna vaccine into its back-to-school immunization program, which it is promoting on social media and television commercials, if and when it is approved by the FDA. He said some schools in his district (Barren, Butler Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe, Simpson and Warren counties) had partnered with Wild Health to get students vaccinated.

So did many other districts, through a highly controversial no-bid, $23.1 million contract Wild Health got from the state, but the Cabinet for Heath and Family Services told Kentucky Health News that the contract expired June 30 and the state is seeking proposals for another one. The cabinet said it was unable last week to provide the number of schools that partnered with Wild Health.

Scott Lockard, public health director of the Kentucky River District Health Department, said his agency has already provided some student vaccinations in Lee and Perry counties and is working with others in the seven counites it serves to offer shots the next three to four weeks.

Once school starts, Lockard said, there will be a vaccination push in schools that have nurses. He said his agency has a mobile testing and vaccination unit that can be used at schools, and is working with community partners to get students vaccinated. It serves Knott, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Owsley, Perry, and Wolfe counties.

Three Rivers District Health Department, which serves Carroll, Gallatin, Owen, and Pendleton counties, said it had provided at least one school Covid-19 vaccine clinic in each of its four counties and has partnered with its local federally qualified health clinics to offer the vaccine during sports physical clinics.

The Green River District Health Department, which serves Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, McLean, Ohio, Webster, and Union counties, said it had done several projects with its schools to get students immunized against the coronavirus, including one with the Owensboro Public Schools that involved their traveling summer feeding locations. In addition, Clayton Horton, the agency’s public health director, said they are working on future immunization projects that have not been finalized yet.

Others on the calendar

The Woodford County Public Health Department will be holding COVID-19 vaccine clinics every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5:30 p.m. at Versailles Presbyterian Church, Public Health Director Cassie Prather told Bob Vlach of the Woodford Sun.

Prior to the two most recent vaccine clinics, she said 353 students in Woodford County schools had received at least the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a clinic conducted by the health department.
At 65%, Woodford County remains the state’s leader in residents who have received at least one dose of a vaccine. But that didn’t keep it from having a church-based outbreak of about 40 cases, plus more in adjoining counties.

On a Facebook post, Harlan County Public Schools says it will be holding COVID-19 vaccination clinics on July 14 and Aug. 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The clinic is sponsored by Walgreens.

The post also says that the school board “is not encouraging nor discouraging the vaccination, but has agreed to allow the use of district space to assist students and staff with getting it if they wish to do so.”

The North Central District Health Department, which serves Henry, Shelby, Spencer, and Trimble counties, will offer the vaccine to 12-to-17-year-olds during their annual back-to-school vaccination clinics on various days between July 24 and Aug 7. All counties will have drive-through clinics July 22 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Stephanie Lokits, the agency’s nursing director, said the dates and locations for the clinics will be published in local newspapers and can also be found on the department’s Facebook page.

Lokits said the department held coronavirus vaccine clinics in each of the five school districts in their counties before school let out, including follow-up clinics to provide the second dose. In addition, she said it is always available at their health clinics.

“We definitely encourage vaccination,” she said. “And we’re here to answer any questions that folks have about the vaccine.”

Students don’t have to get their vaccinations at clinics specific to schools. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Wild Health have partnered to provide vaccines in Marion, McKee, Sandy Hook, Morganfield, Bedford, Lebanon, Falmouth, and Liberty this month, WTVQ reports, along with the calendar.

Several health departments noted that coronavirus vaccination is available at their offices, along with other childhood vaccines — many of which are required for school attendance.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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