Hawaii schools will host on-campus clinics to give the Covid-19 vaccine to children ages 5-11 after its anticipated authorization by the federal government, but the shots will largely be limited to students from the individual schools, the state health department says.

The school-based vaccination efforts will be an extension of the existing partnership between the Department of Health, the Department of Education and health care providers to inoculate kids ages 12-17.

But those efforts were generally open to the wider public to help facilitate efforts to get as many people vaccinated as possible amid a surge in coronavirus cases due to the delta variant. Hawaii has seen the number of cases drop in recent weeks and has inoculated 71% of the population.

Education and health officials are eager to begin giving the vaccine to younger kids as a way to protect the general population. They have stepped up preparations to be ready to administer the shots as soon as possible, with the governor saying an initial supply of 40,000 doses may be available as soon as Nov. 8.

Student received her COVID-19 vaccination at Ilima Intermediate School and needed to wait to be observed after shot.
School campuses had already been serving as Covid-19 vaccination clinics for 12 to 17-year-olds, and their eligible family members, starting in May. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said that as of Wednesday, 113 schools in Hawaii — 80 public schools, 25 private schools and eight charter schools — have expressed interest in hosting a clinic for children. All schools were given the opportunity to register.

“A majority of these school sites will facilitate children from the host school and will be closed to the general public,” Baehr said. “Vaccination providers are being paired with schools. Schedules for administering vaccines are being developed. Questions about vaccine transportation, facilities, manpower and more are being addressed.”

Other possible locations for kids to receive the shot will be pop-up clinics, community health centers, hospitals, pharmacies and pediatrician offices, according to the DOH, which promised to post a list of sites when available at hawaiicovid19.com.

The health department also is planning a communication campaign across TV, radio, print and social media to reach parents, including in different languages to reach non-English-speaking households.

“The Department of Health wants to make vaccine doses available and easily accessible to as many communities around the state as we can,” Baehr said.

An independent advisory panel on Tuesday recommended the FDA extend emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for the 5-to-11 age group, which the agency is expected to do next week. That would clear the way for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make recommendations on the vaccine rollout.

The vaccine for children is one-third the dosage of the one for adults and is administered in two shots spaced three weeks apart.

Roughly 28 million kids around the U.S. are eligible in this next round of the country’s vaccination efforts, considered a watershed moment to help communities reach herd immunity and provide a greater level of protection to the general population, especially as many schools returned to full in-person learning this year.

Hawaii counts more than 119,000 children in the targeted age group, which mainly includes kindergarten through sixth grade. Roughly 83,000 of them attend public schools, comprising more than half of the student body.

About two-thirds of 12-17 year olds have been vaccinated so far, according to latest DOH data.

‘A Personal Choice’

Ige said the vaccine will only be administered to the younger age group with parental approval.

Hawaii Pacific Health Executive Vice President & Chief Quality Officer Melinda Ashton, a pediatrician by background, said she believes the state would track very closely to a recent national survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation that found a third of parents would vaccinate their 5-11 year olds “right away” upon authorization.

She described three likely groups, including parents who plan to sign up immediately; those who might wait and see, perhaps until it is offered at their child’s school; and those who will refuse the shots for their kids as has been the case for many adults.

“Across the country, the experience has been, children do get Covid, they do spread Covid, a small percentage of kids get sick enough to get care and some percentage get sick enough to be in an intensive care unit,” Ashton said.

Nationally, there have been over 8,300 Covid pediatric hospitalizations in the 5-to-11 age range — with rates three times as high for Black, Hispanic and indigenous children as for White children, according to health news website Stat — and close to 100 deaths.

Holomua Elementary School students lineup and head back to their classrooms after recess.
Hawaii has roughly 119,400 children aged 5 to 11, about 8.4% of its population. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Sunset Elementary parent Emily Klein said she does not plan to vaccinate her three kids, ages 6, 9 and 12. Neither she nor her husband are vaccinated.

“My main issue is, there are no long-term studies about the side effects,” she said. “A vaccine needs to be studied for several years on humans before it can be safe.”

The North Shore resident added that all five members of her household got Covid-19 in August, all with non-severe or long-lasting symptoms, though the kids had to quarantine from school for 13 days, she said.

Pfizer said its data show the vaccine is safe for children 5 to 11 and generates a strong immune response. Meanwhile, researchers say they’ve found the side effects of the vaccine for kids to be not that much different than they are for adults, which could include muscle aches, fatigue, fever or soreness at the injection site.

“I just really feel like it’s a personal choice and I respect everyone for their choices,” Klein said. “I made the choice for me and my family, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for another family.”

Teachers and other DOE employees are required to be vaccinated or take weekly Covid tests, but the state doesn’t require students to be vaccinated against Covid-19, with the exception of student athletes and coaching staff.

However, DOE policy often has separate sets of restrictions for unvaccinated kids. For instance, they have to face longer quarantines if considered a close contact to an infected individual, versus those who are vaccinated. Or, they could be subject to more Covid testing protocols after traveling out of the state.

Le Jardin Academy, a pre-K private academy on Windward Oahu, is planning to host an on-campus vaccine clinic for ages 5 to 11 that will fall on a weekend. It will also be open to neighborhood children outside of the school’s regular enrollment, according to head of school Earl Kim.

The school hopes to partner with Adventist Health Castle or another health provider to administer the doses.

“This is a community service,” Kim said. “We are in a public health crisis. Anything parents can do to help blunt that crisis would be greatly appreciated by the community.”

Other private schools are developing plans with other providers. Iolani School, for instance, will be working with Safeway to host a Pfizer clinic for its students, according to spokesman Michelle Hee, while Punahou School will partner with Hawaii Pacific Health to host a clinic for students, its fourth vaccine clinic overall, according to spokesman Robert Gelber.

Across the DOE, several teachers interviewed were unsure about their own school’s plans to host a vaccination clinic for the younger kids. But those who are parents said they have eagerly waited for this moment to arrive.

DOE, school, classroom, vaccine
The bulletin board in teacher Sarah Milianta-Laffin’s classroom at Ilima Intermediate in Ewa Beach invites students’ questions about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine. Courtesy: Sarah Milianta-Laffin

“We were waiting on pins and needles for the vaccine to be available,” said Justin Hughey, a third-grade teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina on Maui. He and his wife, who is pregnant, have a 2-year-old. So far his school had seen roughly 18 cases of students and five employees who have contracted the coronavirus since the school year began.

“It is very encouraging that it is ready and kids can get it, but I won’t feel safe until it is mandatory,” he said.

At Ilima Intermediate in Ewa Beach, STEM teacher Sarah Milianta-Laffin teaches seventh and eighth graders who have been eligible to receive the vaccine since earlier in the year. Staff is generally prohibited from asking about students’ vaccination status, though Milianta-Laffin encourages them to reach out with any questions.

Some students proactively and proudly reveal their vaccination status to her, while others say their parents are adamantly against it. “I smile and say, ‘You have to respect your family,’” she said.

“Now, with the vaccine being open (to kids), the idea we can ensure more people are safe, to bring in a lot more group work and activities that schools are known for, is great.”

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