Children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, with the Pfizer vaccine officially authorized for use in that age group, but local school districts aren’t planning to change their policies surrounding COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
By state law, districts can’t mandate vaccines. But the ConVal School District’s reopening plan includes a protocol for the potential ending of the district’s mandatory masking if a school or community reaches an 80 percent vaccination rate.
The problem, according to ConVal School Board Chair Tim Theberge, is that the district has found verifying the vaccination rates to be difficult.
“Repeated requests to [the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services] for assistance in helping us verify the rate at the high school and two middle schools went unanswered,” he said.
DHHS recently has allowed school nurses access to the state registry, but the district has not had time to discuss or implement any changes due to that, Theberge added.
“Although a high rate of our high school students report being vaccinated, the vaccination rate for 12- to 19-year-olds in the ConVal towns is only 38.6 percent,” Theberge said. Unless the 80 percent benchmark can be verified, he said the issue is moot.
This will apply to younger children becoming eligible as well, and Theberge also pointed out that due to dose timing and the 14-day post-vaccination waiting period, the earliest that district children under the age of 12 could be considered fully vaccinated would be mid-December.
So for now, nothing at ConVal is changing with the imminent arrival of vaccines for younger children. The same holds true for other districts, with some of them acknowledging the potential benefit of students being vaccinated, while not making adjustments to reopening policies.
“We will rely on the wisdom of our families when it comes to vaccinating their children against COVID-19,” said Mascenic Superintendent Chris Martin. “Our mitigation plan will not change unless DHHS recommends a change and the board is in agreement.”
Jaffrey-Rindge touched on the issue at this week’s school board meeting, with Superintendent Reuben Duncan stating that if parents chose to vaccinate their 5- to 11-year-olds, it would “add another layer of protection,” but not recommending any changes to district policy on the subject.
At Mason Elementary School, according to Principal Kristen Kivela, the issue hasn’t been discussed.
Martin said Mascenic is considering hosting a vaccine clinic for families who are interested, if that’s possible, and Theberge said that ConVal would do the same if able.