AUSTIN (KXAN) — With word the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may soon grant Emergency Use Authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds, Austin Public Health is encouraging parents to get their teens and preteens vaccinated as soon as they can.
In a Tuesday briefing with Travis County commissioners and Austin City Council members, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said demand for the COVID-19 vaccine is currently lower than vaccine supply, locally. He also said he expects the Pfizer vaccine may receive EUA for the younger age group as soon as this week.
“That’s going to increase the demand for us, and certainly we encourage parents of middle schoolers and high schoolers as soon as that is approved, to sign up with vaccinators who are providing Pfizer vaccines, and get their children vaccinated certainly before the beginning of the next school year, but as soon as possible would be even better,” Escott said.
Just as some school districts in Central Texas coordinated clinics and worked to vaccinate teachers and other staff members, several tell KXAN they plan to do the same for students once the opportunity opens up to kids as young as 12.
The Austin Independent School District told KXAN it will continue to host pop-up clinics with vaccine partners like Ascension Seton, CommUnityCare and Code 4 to make the vaccine more available for students as the age requirement is lowered. Currently, students 16 and up along with families and AISD staff members can be vaccinated at the pop-up clinics, and AISD said it will open the clinics up to younger students immediately once the age requirement is lowered.
The Hays Consolidated Independent School District said it plans to continue partnering with county health authorities to host one or more vaccine clinics for students who meet the age requirements, however, there’s no date set for that yet.
The Round Rock Independent School District said it’s talking with health care partners about helping to provide information and possibly even facilitating students receiving vaccines if their parents are interested. RRISD promises to communicate with families once it has more information to share.
Lake Travis Independent School District is discussing the possibility of hosting or partnering on vaccination opportunities for 12- to 15-year-old students once the Pfizer vaccine receives EUA for that age group. However, LTISD stresses even if it does make vaccination clinics available to students, they’ll be completely optional. The district said it’s gotten questions from parents as to whether COVID-19 vaccines will be required for all students for the 2021-22 school year. LTISD said unless the state legislature requires districts to do so, as with other vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines should remain optional for students.
IDEA Public Schools, which is a state-authorized vaccine provider, has already been vaccinating students alongside staff members in the Austin area.
“At our first vaccine clinic, we had students that were 16 years and older,” said Wesley Kline, assistant principal of Operations at IDEA Health Professions.
IDEA plans to ask the state for more doses once Pfizer is authorized for younger ages — an opportunity to make its classrooms safer.
“Our current guidelines are that any staff or student that is fully vaccinated, if they come into close contact, they do not have to quarantine, unless they start developing symptoms,” Kline said.
Kline adds IDEA is looking forward to bringing some normalcy back, as vaccinations make in-person learning more possible.
“We have a very strong belief that in-person learning is the best option for students, because inside school, there’s more joy, there’s more rigor. It’s the best academic environment. It’s the best social-emotional environment where you can build relationships,” Kline said.
IDEA Public Schools set a goal of having 80% of all staff nationwide vaccinated by the end of this school year. So far, more than 600 of the approximately 900 IDEA staff members in the Austin area have gotten the vaccine.