With the recent approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11, schools across the Monadnock Region are looking to make the shots readily available to students who want them.
Local schools have been “very active and receptive” to hosting clinics for the youngsters, according to Jane Parayil, an emergency preparedness coordinator with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, which has overseen the region’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
“As we know, this is an ever-changing process with many wheels turning,” Parayil said in an email Wednesday. “Currently planning these clinics takes a few weeks to ensure there is enough communication to the schools, families, parents and children for scheduling appointments and receiving consent.”
The public health network hopes to start rolling out first-dose clinics for kids 5 to 11 in some schools in December, Parayil added.
Parents would need to register their child for an appointment at school clinics, and information for that process will be sent out by schools, according to Parayil. For clinics during school hours, electronic and written consent would be required prior to an appointment. For afterschool clinics, only electronic consent would be required, as the parents would be expected to accompany their children to appointments.
Last week, federal health officials approved the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children age 5 to 11 — the first to get the OK for that age group.
The vaccine has been found to be about 91 percent effective for this age group, and no severe cases of COVID-19 were found in those who were inoculated, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
For younger children, the vaccine is one-third of the adult dose and administered with a smaller needle, according to the FDA. Side effects can include arm soreness and fatigue, but are typically mild and short-lived, the agency says. The vaccine’s safety has been studied in about 3,000 children, and no serious side effects have been detected in the ongoing study.
Last month, officials with N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 met with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network to learn about organizing clinics in Keene schools, superintendent Robert Malay said at a school board meeting Tuesday. And now that people 5 and older are eligible for the vaccine, all schools in the district are interested in having clinics, Malay said.
“We want to offer vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines, in our schools in a similar vein as we offer the flu vaccines in our schools,” Malay said at the meeting, emphasizing that the vaccinations would not be mandatory. A state law that took effect earlier this year prohibits public facilities and services — including public schools — from requiring COVID-19 immunization.
“But for those who want that, and want that accessibility, we’re trying to make it easier for them,” Malay said.
Each SAU 29 school may take a different approach when it comes to scheduling as they explore offering the vaccinations during school hours, in the evenings, or on the weekends, he added.
These would be the first COVID-19 vaccine clinics offered by SAU 29 — which covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland — Malay told the Sentinel on Thursday.
And SAU 29 isn’t alone in its interest to host vaccination appointments for younger kids.
Since the vaccine was approved for children 12 and older earlier this year, local districts have already held clinics for students in that age group and plan to continue doing so.
The Hinsdale School District has held three vaccine clinics for its older students, with a fourth scheduled for Monday, Nov. 15, according to Ann Marie Diorio, executive assistant to the superintendent. And while the doses for younger students may not be ready to include at next week’s clinic, Diorio said, the district does plan to coordinate with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network to have more on-site vaccination opportunities in the future.
In the spring, the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network reached out to the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District to organize COVID-19 vaccine clinics, according to communications coordinator Nick Handy. As of Wednesday, the district hadn’t heard from the network about another round of vaccine clinics for younger kids, Handy said.
“That being said, the district has been reaching out to see if a local hospital or other entity could help with a clinic,” Handy said in an email.
The ConVal School District — which covers Antrim, Bennington, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Hancock, Peterborough, Sharon and Temple — has also worked with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network to organize vaccine clinics in the past and plans to continue doing so, according to Superintendent Kimberly Rizzo Saunders.
Besides the potential clinics that local schools could host on their campuses, there are other opportunities for Monadnock Region kids to get inoculated. Cheshire Medical Center in Keene and Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough both have kid-specific clinics scheduled throughout November and December.
People can also visit vaccines.nh.gov to find other locations, such as pharmacies, that are administering COVID-19 vaccines.
Schools that are interested in partnering with the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network to offer vaccine clinics can contact Jane Parayil at email@example.com.