GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — There is so much talk these days about who can get a COVID-19 vaccine, and when. But there’s another line of thinking where people have no plans to get it.
What about our kids? What’s in store for them? Will it impact their return to school? We went to the experts to get a look at how transmission rates are staying low for schools and what early research is showing about vaccines in kids.
EARLY RESEARCH IN CHILDREN
Dr. Lisa Lowery, MD is the section chief of adolescent medicine at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
"The Pfizer vaccine is approved down to age 16. so maybe we can start immunizing those kids," Lowery said in a one-on-one interview with our Mike Avery.
Lowery says she’s hoping there will be a vaccine available for kids “even younger” by 2022. "We may even be able to immunize some of the younger, you know, the five, six-year's for COVID.”
This may seem like a long way off as currently, less than 8% of all Americans are fully vaccinated.
"Pfizer has just submitted some data for 12 to 16 years of age, then they're going to work at six to 12 years of age. so they're working back in little age groups," said Dr. Ronald Grifka, Chief Medical Officer at Metro Health University of Michigan Health System.
"Moderna is just in the process of getting those information. but certainly they did not focus on kids initially. but now they're turning their attention to children and trying to get to younger ages to see make sure that the vaccine is safe and effective," Grifka said.
Safe and effective, the way most kids would get their shots before a new school year and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
WILL KIDS IN MICHIGAN GET THE COVID VACCINE ONCE APPROVED?
In 2019, nearly 94% of enrolled students in Kindergarten through 7th grade, and new students to a district, both public and private in the state, received their immunizations.
It’s this kind of data that leads Dr. Lowery to believe, when available, a high percentage of school aged kids would take part in COVID-19 vaccinations.
"I would think most of the kids a lot of the immunizations are required for schools and talking to their primary care providers," Lowery said.
"There are some there are very few kids that there are certain vaccines we can't give because maybe they're lived or we have to change the immunization schedule but the majority of our parents would get the immunizations and the side effects are very minimal and we do have a long trusted immunization system where we monitor for side effects long term. so the majority of our parents would get vaccinations.”
WHAT PARENTS SHOULD KNOW
Dr. Grifka, who works in Pediatrics, says parents should still be cautious.
"Kids are developing, their cells are replicating more duplicating. so we need to be careful and I will say this, everything we know about these vaccines, they should be perfectly safe, there should be no ill effects on children or older patients, but we just don't know, we haven't studied it to make sure that they truly are safe and effective.”
While the younger students will have to wait for more clinical trials before their names are called for vaccinations, teachers across the state of Michigan have been able to get vaccinated, which many believe will also help in the classroom and with the fight against COVID-19.
Out of the 2.5 million cases n the United States, less than 10% have been in kids, according to Dr. Grifka.
"Kids are much less affected by COVID-19, thank goodness, and they're less likely to spread it also, that said they still could get covid-19 and have symptoms become ill. but nonetheless, they seem to be a lot less susceptible than adults to contracting COVID-19," he said.
"We know in schools for the most part, they are quite safe. and we see the detrimental effects of kids not being in school. so certainly schools have proven they can be safe places for children to be, we need to get kids back to school and get your teachers immunized so that they have a level of safety," Grifka said.
SCHOOLS IN WEST MICHIGAN ARE ON BOARD
Data from the Michigan Education Association shows 2/3 of Michigan educators have been vaccinated.
"I would say as far as all employees really support staff, teachers, administrators, and so forth. I would say the numbers are pretty close to 70%" said Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Michael Shibler.
The number of vaccinated is even higher at Oakridge Public Schools in Muskegon.
"We're really happy that 75% of our staff had requested to be vaccinated, and the first round is complete and we've just started our second round of vaccinations. and we hope to be complete with that. beginning the middle of March," said Oakridge Superintendent Tom Livezey.
Rockford and Oakridge school districts seem to be a little bit ahead of the rest of the state.
We also reached out to the Michigan Education Association to get an update on vaccination efforts.
THE DATA: NUMBER OF MICHIGAN EDUCATORS VACCINATED SO FAR
The MEA says nearly 2/3 of school employees are either vaccinated or in the process of being vaccinated against COVID-19 while about 37% are not scheduled or vaccinated.
Here’s a look at how schools are doing by county in West Michigan.
More than 78% school employees are vaccinated or scheduled to be in Kent County and Muskegon County, that number is about 76%
Allegan and Ottawa counties are almost identical nearly 64% vaccinated or scheduled,
But it’s a different story in Kalamazoo County, where only 32% of school employees are vaccinated or scheduled, while more than 68% are not.
Right now Kalamazoo Public Schools is still only offering a virtual option so there are no students in the class.
"Our teachers, our education system, they are frontline workers and I'm hopeful and encouraged that we can start getting as many teachers immunized as possible, again, that goes along with that herd immunity that we're trying to get so the more teachers we have, the safer our schools would be for our kids, the safer our teachers will be and being protected from coronavirus.”
If you missed it, watch our LIVE panel with several school districts and health experts about what a vaccine rollout in schools could look like, how schools are keeping kids safe for in-person learning, and what to expect as we get closer to adults getting vaccinated.