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Cape's Vaccine Rollout for Children Likely Done at Doctor Offices, School Clinics

Some medical experts predict that children ages 5-and-up could soon be eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

That could have a huge impact on schools locally, even paving the way for some schools to drop mask requirements.

CAI's morning edition producer Sam Houghton spoke with local pediatrician and health adviser to the Falmouth Mashpee public schools Dr. Greg Parkinson about what COVID vaccines for young children will mean for schools.

Sam Houghton: So first, what is what's the latest here? Do we have a timetable for when kids 12 and under may be eligible for the vaccine?

Dr. Greg Parkinson Not an exact date, but it is coming fairly soon. Pfizer has now just recently applied for FDA approval to give vaccine to children 5-and-up. And as you know, that takes a few weeks to process. And then if it does receive approval, then it goes to the CDC. And so, it seems to be that within a month this will be on us.

SH: And how do you see this being rolled out here locally? We could see a lot of kids and anxious parents wanting to get their kids vaccinated on day one. Right?

GP: it's always a little bit tricky logistically because as we saw the beginning of the vaccine, there's the approval and then there's the availability and then there's the distribution. We're in a better position than where we were when it first rolled out because there's no shortage of vaccine. But in terms of the logistics, it is still the Pfizer vaccine, and that has to be kept cold. So there's a number of different possibilities.

It is available in smaller doses now. So there's the possibility of individual offices having the practical ability to keep some, and give it to kids.

I think some schools will do clinics the same way that they've done for 12-and-up. Then there's the private pharmacy as well. You know, I think the trend will be with this more towards schools and [doctors'] offices and away from public pharmacies just because of the nature of the age of the kids.

SH: And now looking at the schools, how are Falmouth and Mashpee schools treating vaccinated individuals in the upper grades now? How are things different than last year? If someone in a classroom test positives and some of the close contacts are vaccinated and some are not, how is that treated?

GP: Yes. So that is one of the advantages of being vaccinated is, as you know, last year, if you were considered a close contact, then you were out for the quarantine period. Whereas now, if you are vaccinated and you are a contact at school, then you don't have to be quarantined.

Unless you develop symptoms, of course. You still need to be aware of that possibility because we are seeing some breakthrough cases in vaccinated people, albeit milder illness.

So the other thing is that if you're vaccinated and you're a household contact, some of the schools are recommending quarantining for those people because those are tending to be the people that we see having the breakthrough cases.

SH: Now, the state is saying that if schools reach 80 percent vaccinated, these mask mandates can go away. Do you think that's a smart decision for schools?

GP: Well, I want to just highlight the fact that there is the potential for kids to get very sick and even die from COVID. There have been over 500 COVID related death in people under age 18 in this country. So while it's normally a mild illness, because of the millions of cases, a small percentage can get very sick and even die. It's important to emphasize that this does have a true role in children, the same way that the flu vaccine does, the same way that other vaccines do in terms of protecting their own health.

The second benefit I would want to highlight is getting back to normalcy. In order for that to happen, we have to get people vaccinated. The way we get through this is by getting everybody vaccinated.

But the third issue, when you get a certain number of people vaccinated, and I think everybody's familiar with that concept of herd immunity, the chances of somebody getting sick and spreading it, reduces to the point where the virus becomes less common in the community and then can not be as much of a day to day practical worry.

And that's a long winded introduction to the idea of, you know, getting 80 percent people vaccinated. I think it's a great carrot. I think it's a great goal. And I hope that that can come to pass. I think you have to take that kind of decision making in light of what I call the weather outside. As everyone knows, in September, we've had an uptick in COVID in our local communities. That's not something you can just ignore as well. I think what we are looking for is that increase in vaccine rate, but at the same time, a reduction in caseload.

SH: And I know you're a physician here and you don't necessarily wade into politics, but one school district in Western Massachusetts has already decided they are going to have a vaccine mandate for students. Is that something that you would support here in Massachusetts?

GP: So you're right, I won't wade into politics, but I'll say this. The more people that are vaccinated, the more likely we are to get to the other side. Everybody would like to see voluntary uptake of the vaccine. However, we know that has not worked as well as when there have been mandates. And I think the people making these decisions have to take that into consideration when they're making their decision.

Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.