The Centers for Disease Control has recently approved COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11, aiming to slow the ongoing spread of the virus. Bellingham Public Schools hope this announcement will bring them closer to normalcy.
Following the CDC announcement on Nov. 2 approving COVID-19 vaccines for children, PeaceHealth hosted a special vaccine clinic for 5 to 11-year-olds on Nov. 13 and will host another on Nov. 20, with limited appointments Tuesdays to Fridays by appointment only.
Anne Williams, PeaceHealth communications specialist, said once area pharmacies begin to offer pediatric vaccines along with PeaceHealth, then the demand in the community should be met.
Dana Smith, Bellingham Public School District spokesperson, said in an email that the new eligibility for children means that schools are one step closer in their return to normal.
“As more people have been able to be immunized, it’s also increased our ability to continue to provide in-person school, services and extracurriculars,'' Smith said. “When students are vaccinated, they are able to stay at school even if they are close contacts to a confirmed case of COVID-19. This means that their education and involvement in extracurriculars is less interrupted.”
In an announcement to the community, the Bellingham Public School COVID-19 safety team noted that the pediatric doses were only one-third of the adolescent and adult dosage.
Over a year and a half into the pandemic, schools have been seeing cases among students, leading the schools to conduct investigations and utilize contact tracing, Smith said.
The Bellingham Public School District has around 5,000 students in elementary school, 2,500 in middle school and 4,000 in high school. A total enrollment of about 11,500.
With the Delta variant surge in the region, Melissa Morin, communication specialist with the Whatcom County Health Department, said in an email that Whatcom County is seeing case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths as high as any other time in the pandemic.
The 5 to 17 age group currently has the highest case rates in Whatcom County. This new vaccine eligibility for that age group may change that.
“We hope that families will choose to vaccinate their children and that the number of cases in this age group will decrease,” Morin said.
While facing transmission in the schools, Bellingham Public Schools has a COVID-19 dashboard with information for families to reflect their contact tracing protocol, aiming to help slow the spread.
“Data and experience from schools in the state continue to show that our layers of mitigation remain effective in preventing the spread of [COVID-19] in our schools,” Smith said.
Teachers have been working hard through this and schools have had to take on public health work in addition to education, Smith said.
“[COVID-19] work takes a lot of time and energy, and is stressful and ultimately not sustainable for the long term,” Smith said. “Like with older children, we anticipate ages 5-11 being able to be vaccinated means fewer children will have their education interrupted by illness or quarantine, and this will help kids and families.”
Bella Neff (she/her) is a third-year student studying journalism and political science, and reporting on city news. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.