FCPS shares plans for COVID-19 vaccine clinics for young students, potentially starting next month

Fairfax County Public Schools

School-based COVID-19 vaccination clinics for elementary school-aged children could be set up as soon as mid-November, Fairfax County Public Schools officials say.

As reported to the Fairfax County School Board at a work session yesterday (Tuesday), these targeted vaccination clinics will be available in evenings or weekends and have a parent or guardian present.

FCPS is also working with the Fairfax County Health Department to provide vaccination clinics during the school day that would require advance parental consent for students to participate. Those clinics are expected to be available after winter break, officials said.

With COVID-19 vaccine eligibility potentially expanding to children aged 5-11 in early November, FCPS is currently developing plans for providing testing and vaccinations to students.

Most families who responded to an FCPS survey of their vaccination plans intend to get the vaccine for their young children, according to results that school officials shared with the school board.

Of the 85,302 surveys sent to parents and guardians of children who will be in the 5-11 age range on Nov. 1, 35,801 (36%) were returned with responses. The survey was designed to determine what supports, if any, families need to access vaccinations for their children.

Survey results indicated that 76% of parents or guardians plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine for their child, with 80% of that group planning to do so as soon as it’s available. 12% of those surveyed are undecided, and 10% do not plan to get their child vaccinated.

According to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, “common reasons” cited for not getting vaccinated include “personal beliefs” regarding vaccinations, followed by the vaccines’ emergency-use authorization status. So far, federal health officials have only officially approved the Pfizer vaccine for individuals 16 and older.

The survey also revealed an even split on the challenges of obtaining a vaccination appointment, with 45% indicating that wait times have been a challenge and 44% indicating there were no challenges.

49% of those surveyed would not let their child get vaccinated during the school day without a parent or guardian present, while 35% would consider that possibility.

FCPS Department of Special Services Assistant Superintendent Michelle Boyd emphasized that, on top of the information provided by the surveys, officials will look at data on community transmission, vaccination rates, and other factors to guide their plans.

“We’re also using that health data to inform what might be the best locations and also taking into consideration what local vaccination opportunities are available in close proximity so that we can make sure that we’re building those bridges for folks who don’t have readily available resources that are within accessible distance,” Boyd said.

While FCPS has not mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for students, except those involved in athletics and some other extracurricular activities, school officials have strongly encouraged them for those who are eligible and are developing a plan for providing testing and vaccinations.

In addition to the school-based clinics, vaccinations will be made available through mass vaccine sites at the Government Center, South County Government Center, and Tysons Community Vaccination Center.

FCPS says it will provide transportation support for families to mass vaccination clinics, along with supervision and emotional support for students at clinics that take place during the school day.

Inova will provide pediatric vaccination clinics at the Inova Center for Personalized Health and Inova Cares Clinic for Children & Families. The nonprofit health system will also have informational packets and videos on vaccination available for families in multiple languages.

COVID-19 vaccinations for children are also expected to be available at many community sites, including medical homes, local pharmacies, and local health department offices. 80% of the 20 practices that the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics identified in the county as serving children plan to vaccinate in some capacity, according to FCPS.

FCPS will also offer optional screening testing starting next month to “promptly identify and isolate cases and quarantine those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 who are not fully vaccinated,” according to Boyd.

The optional screening testing for students who aren’t fully vaccinated will start with elementary students during the week of Nov. 8 before rolling out to middle and high school students the week of Nov. 15.

FCPS has partnered with third-party vendor Longview International Technology Solutions (LTS) to conduct the screenings.

All student testing will require parental consent. Parents and guardians will receive a link to register their child for testing, if they wish to do so.

While participation is optional for most students, it will be required for student athletes who are not fully vaccinated beginning the week of Nov. 1. Student athletes aged 12 to 15 will be tested every week, as will all student athletes 16 and older with a medical or religious waiver.

If a student athlete that is not fully vaccinated fails to participate in a weekly screening testing, they will be ineligible for participation in future activities until they provide a negative test result.

FCPS confirmed that its vaccination mandate for employees will take effect on Nov. 1. Staff that have not provided documentation of being fully vaccinated by then will be tested weekly.

According to a survey of FCPS staff, 97% of respondents said they are fully vaccinated. 92% of contracted employees responded to the survey. Those who have not responded will be included in the weekly testing, alongside those who are not fully vaccinated.

Brabrand said FCPS will continue to follow its 14-day quarantine guidance at this time, but will revisit the quarantine length in consultation with public health experts after a vaccine becomes available for children ages 5-11.

“Our plan to ensure the continuity of safe in-person learning is working, and it is my intention and that of our leadership team, working with our health partners, to continue to follow our public health guidance,” Brabrand said.

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