Madeline Logsdon has remained a virtual student learning from home this year, even though many of her classmates at Lafayette High School returned to in-person instruction.
“We just didn’t feel like it was safe,” the 15-year-old said Thursday. But now, she’s breathing a sight of relief. Madeline was among the first adolescents as young as 12 to get their initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday at STEAM Academy in Lexington.
“Getting the vaccine will allow me to get out of the house, go to marching band camp, go to school next year, see my friends,” she said.
Now that federal health officials have green lit immunizing children ages 12-15 with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, school districts across Kentucky are mobilizing to get as many eligible students vaccinated as possible before the school year ends.
“Now, many Kentucky children and young teens have a chance to roll up their sleeves and become heroes for their communities by receiving their [shot],” Gov. Andy Beshear said this week.
Many districts moved immediately to register students. Of the 80 people registered to receive vaccines Thursday at Fayette school’s STEAM Academy, 55 of them are 12 to 15 years old, said district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said.
Addison Smith, 12, a student at Jessie Clark Middle School, went to STEAM Academy with her dad Eric Smith to get her shot, bolstered by her parents’ support. “My parents got it and I wanted to get it,” she said. “I feel like if I got it, I’d be more protected. I’d feel safer going to different places.”
Maddie Blankenship, a 15-year-old freshman at Lexington Catholic High who was left immunocompromised after a liver transplant when she was a baby, got her first dose Thursday morning, too. Once her immunity kicks in, she’ll feel more comfortable spending time with friends.
“That’s one thing I’ve really missed,” she said.
Districts have been planning for this expanded rollout for weeks. And with roughly a week to go before the 2020-2021 school year ends, schools are sprinting to get at least the first Pfizer shot in arms before students disperse for the summer. Ideally, that means bringing doses to students during the school day, Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Steven Stack told superintendents on Wednesday.
He encouraged districts to coordinate with sites already providing the Pfizer vaccine, such as local health departments, Kroger and CVS Health, which announced it would begin vaccinating kids age 12-15 on Thursday at 48 different pharmacy locations in Kentucky. More information can be found at CVS.com.
“We are hoping to make this as easy for you as possible,” Stack said. “If your local health department has the vaccine, is willing to do it . . . please reach out to [them] and try to get your kids on the path to being vaccinated before they go home.”
Parents also have the option of making appointments for their children at most any site across the state offering the Pfizer vaccine, most of which can be found using the state’s vaccine map. There are at least 25 sites in and around Lexington, including the University of Kentucky at Kroger Field, which began immunizing young teenagers on Tuesday.
Wild Health, Inc., through a $23.1 million contract with the Department for Public Health, is coordinating with districts across the state to set up pop-up vaccination sites in 40-50 elementary, middle and high schools in the coming weeks at no cost to students. Students over the age of 11, their families, along with school employees and their families, can register for a dose at kyvax.wildhealth.com.
“We have a ton of people reaching out that we’re trying to put on the books,” said Jordan Weiter, coordinator of school testing sites for Wild Health. “Anywhere that wants to promote it and wants to get their kid vaccinated, we’re trying to get in there as soon as possible.”
‘Normal school year next year’
Fayette County schools is relying on Wild Health to make the shot available to all students who qualify, Acting Superintendent Marlene Helm said. The same is true in Boyd County.
“I jumped on it as soon as that information came out. I thought it was imperative,” Superintendent Bill Boblett said Thursday morning.
Next week is the last week of school in his Eastern Kentucky district, and Wild Health is scheduled to administer doses on Monday at Boyd County High School and Boyd County Middle School. A little over 100 students have so far signed up.
Inoculating students against the virus will solve many problems, including the need for vaccinated students to quarantine if they’re exposed. Last week in his district, several students in high school and middle school tested positive, which resulted in quarantining close to 300 kids.
“The more we can get vaccinated, the bigger opportunity we can have to have a normal school year next year,” he said.
James McMillin, Chief of High Schools for Fayette County, said the district is opening its Wild Health clinics to anyone in the community, not just students.
Fayette County schools will host vaccination clinics throughout the summer. Kids will likely be able to get their second shot where they got their first one or can opt to go to another clinic at a school, he said.
In the short term, Wild Health is operating pop-up clinics at the following locations:
8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesday May 18 at Bryan Station High School, 301 Eastin Road; Henry Clay High School, 2100 Fontaine Road; and Lafayette High School, 401 Reed Lane.
1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday May 18 at Frederick Douglass High School, 2000 Winchester Road; Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, 1600 Man o’ War Boulevard; and Tates Creek High School, 1111 Centre Parkway.
Helm said the school district is working with Wild Health to offer more dates, times and locations, and will announce those clinics once details are available.
Though children are at a decreased risk for serious COVID-19 infection, they can still transmit the virus to others, which is why increasing the number of fully vaccinated students, their family members and school personnel has played a critical role in reducing transmission rates and quarantine numbers, Helm said.
On April 27, nearly 1,000 people, including students 16 and over, got COVID-19 vaccines at Fayette County’s six main high schools.
Maddie’s father, Mike Logsdon, who accompanied his daughter to get her dose Thursday morning, said he jumped at the opportunity to register her; it’s just one more step to restoring normalcy.
“We’ve been waiting for this opportunity to make sure she would have the ability to go back to school, to be safe around her friends and to be able to participate in events that we haven’t been able to in the past year,” he said.