While many families would have hoped that the questions around returning their kids to school during the pandemic this fall would be settled by now, the truth is that there are many unknowns. Even as we get to some schools starting in late August, the uncertainty isn’t easing, which is why a number of Twin Cities Jewish organizations are trying to help.
“Planning for Fall and Beyond in the new Era of COVID-19: Vaccinations, Safety and School-Aged Children,” is an Aug. 4 Zoom event that is bringing together a group of experts to help answer questions parents may have as school is around the corner.
“There’s so much information out there, and the people that will be on the panel are experts in different arenas,” said Leah Persky, the family life education manager at Jewish Children’s and Family Service of Minneapolis, one of the organizations sponsoring the event. “It will give us kind of a more holistic view of how we should think about going forward and planning ahead and school starting back up.”
The event is also sponsored by PJ Library Minneapolis, PJ Library St. Paul, (which are programs of JFCS and St. Paul Jewish Federation, respectively), and Jewish Family Service of St. Paul.
Ben Christianson, a senior epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health and one of the panelists at the event, said that one of the most common questions he gets is about whether the COVID vaccine is safe.
“It was remarkable how quickly we got these vaccines and how quickly they were studied and approved. But really, none of the steps were skipped in the process,” he said. “The federal government really stepped up and provided funding and took on a lot of the financial risk that some of the vaccine manufacturers have when setting out to study a vaccine that may or may not get approved. That really sped up the process and allowed for us to get the vaccines through the clinical trials.”
Christianson, who works in the Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Section at MDH, will also be joined on the panel by a JFCS therapist and a pediatrician. He said that the percentage of children that have received the routine immunizations that are required to attend Minnesota schools is down.
“When we were looking at the data from last school year, for example, the average for all five of the required vaccines for kindergarten dropped by about 3 percentage points during the last school year, and then even more so for the adolescents,” he said. “That’s another thing we’ve been trying to talk about alongside the COVID vaccine is just ensuring parents know that there’s other routine vaccines that are recommended, some that are even required for school, and that we did see kids and families fall behind in the pandemic.”
While some may be hesitant to get their children vaccinated for COVID — 41.5 percent of 12-15-year-olds have had at least one dose, and 52.2 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds have had at least one dose — Christianson said that the vaccine has been very effective, even with some breakthrough infections.
“No vaccine is 100 percent effective,” he said. “But we have seen that even if they test positive, the vaccines do protect from severe disease and some of the more severe outcomes. We usually see a bump in the back-to-school vaccinations in August, so we’re hoping to see something similar this year with the routine vaccinations, but as well, as well as COVID [vaccinations].”