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NEA News

Educators Promote Vaccine for Elementary Students

Educators across the country encourage families to vaccinate children through providers or at school-based clinics.
vaccines for children
Published: November 3, 2021

Key Takeaways

  1. Vaccines for 5- to 11-year olds are now available with CDC and FDA approval.
  2. The vaccines are 91 percent effective.
  3. More vaccinated students create safer in-person learning environments.

Children ages 5 to 11 can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine after the CDC signed off on the FDA’s recommendation to grant emergency use authorization of the Pfizer pediatric vaccine, allowing providers to provide immunizations immediately. The announcement set off a flurry of phone calls from many parents eager to get shots for their kids.

“We started searching first thing in the morning after the announcement but appointments at local pharmacies were filling up fast,” says Jennifer Jones, a mother of two in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. “We heard from a friend that a ZIP code 30 minutes away had appointments so we signed up for the first available slots.”

Jones had been anticipating the announcement and was hopeful that her children could receive the vaccine before the Thanksgiving holiday, if not before Christmas.

“If we ever hope to return to a sense of normalcy, vaccinating the 28 million kids in our country is critical – not just for protecting them, but also all of the educators who are there for our students each and every day, despite the risk of having the virus transmitted to them,” Jones says.

Not every parent shares that viewpoint. Many remain distrustful of the vaccine, even as fears of a new wave of virus infections looms with the start of colder weather and despite research that shows that children get infected and transmit the virus as readily as adults.

Safe and Effective                         

COVID-19 cases in children can result in hospitalizations, deaths, inflammatory syndromes and long-term complications, such as “long COVID,” in which symptoms can linger for months. The spread of the Delta variant resulted in a surge of COVID-19 cases in children throughout the summer, and from late June to mid-August, COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased fivefold.  According to the CDC, vaccination, along with other preventative measures, can protect children from COVID-19 using the safe and effective vaccines already recommended for use in adolescents and adults in the United States.

The pediatric vaccine was nearly 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 among children aged 5-11 years in clinical trials, and side effects were mild and similar to those seen in adults and with other vaccines recommended for children. The most common side effect was a sore arm. 

“We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” says CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky. “As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated." 

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'Another Step Closer'

Educators across the country are encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated to keep kids and schools safe as possible for in-person learning, with some schools even planning to set up clinics and offer vaccines on site.  For example, a school in Colorado plans to close for a day this month to provide vaccinations for kids while in New York City, elementary school students will be able to get vaccinated in schools on November 8.

District elementary schools are taking cues from middle and high schools whose students were eligible first, like the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which partnered with the city’s health department to hold 250 middle and high school-based or mobile clinics across the district last spring. Or the East Hartford School District in Connecticut, which allowed eligible students to “skip a day” to be vaccinated with parent consent at a large clinic run by community health center on two runways of the local airport.

NEA applauds these efforts and encourages districts across the country to help promote COVID-19 vaccines.

“Today's approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children 5-to-11 years old is yet another critical moment in our journey out of this COVID-19 pandemic," said NEA President Becky Pringle.  "NEAwelcomes what this means for our younger students, who look forward to more extracurricular and social activities and safer family gatherings now that so many more family and friends can be vaccinated. Safe and effective vaccines for our youngest students put us another step closer to making our schools the healthiest and safest places possible for our students and educators.”  

Pringle says NEA will continue to work to ensure the vaccine is readily available and accessible to all students – including Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities that are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19.  

“All students have the right to safe in-person instruction. A vaccine alone won’t solve the many challenges our nation’s public-school students and educators are confronting during this pandemic and beyond, but wide adoption will help increase a level of safety for in-person learning so we can provide an education where every student can thrive,” Pringle says. “NEA remains committed to working together to ensure our local schools are the safest places in the community for every student, educator, and family.”  

NEA’s “Vax to School” offers resources to help educators, schools, families and communities to join the effort to get our students vaccinated. Launched last spring, the site also contains a map highlighting what providers offer vaccines and will be updated to reflect the new announcement.

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.