Washington State School Districts Step Up Efforts for COVID Vaccination Clinics and Testing Programs
As COVID-19 vaccines begin dispensing to Washington’s youngest school-aged children this week, some of the state’s largest school districts are stepping up efforts to run their own immunization clinics.
In order to reduce the spread of COVID, school districts will use their buildings during school hours, evenings and weekends to immunize students. Coronavirus testing programs in schools are also being launched to limit the spread of the virus and minimize wasted in-person class time.
And members of the board of directors who govern the state’s largest district are talking about encouraging state health officials to force the vaccine on all students in the state to attend the. school.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave final approval to Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, making all school-aged children eligible for a vaccine. According to the state Department of Health, 189 COVID outbreaks occurred in K-12 schools in Washington between August 1 and September 30.
Seattle Public Schools offer two options for vaccinating students. Starting Monday, the district will open 40 school clinics during school hours for students enrolled in these specific schools. Parents and guardians can accompany their children but must show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test from the past 72 hours. In the absence of a parent or guardian, students will need signed or verbal consent.
There are also 14 regional evening and weekend clinics for Seattle students ages 5 and up. Students do not need to be enrolled in a specific school to be vaccinated at regional clinics and need a parent or guardian present.
Visit seattleschools.org/news/vaccine-clinic/#school for times, dates and locations of Seattle school and regional clinics.
The Lake Washington School District will administer its first doses to children on Saturday and Sunday. The district has only received 1,800 doses, and not all of those enrolled have been given an appointment, according to the district’s website.
Vaccine appointments at two Bellevue School District pop-up clinics on Friday and Saturday were also full. The district is working to organize more clinics based on demand, its website said.
Federal Way Public Schools partnered with OmLife Health to have mobile clinics for staff and students ages 5 and up at Todd Beamer High School on November 13-20.
Coronavirus screening programs are also deployed in school buildings. The Pierce County Orting School District will launch a testing program, Test to Stay, which was developed by the state Department of Health on Monday.
The program offers districts statewide the ability to change its COVID-19 quarantine protocols for unvaccinated K-12 students who identify themselves on campus as close contacts and help reduce ‘exclusion from schools,’ Orting officials said.
Bellevue Schools are also rolling out a testing program that offers testing for students and staff who show symptoms or have been exposed to the coronavirus, and screening tests, a proactive approach that tests for the virus even though students and staff are not symptomatic or considered close contact.
Seattle school board members plan to take COVID mitigation strategies further. A resolution urging the state health council to add the COVID vaccine to the list of vaccines required to attend school has been considered twice by the council.
Last month, the vote was delayed to give the district more time to do community outreach. Board members have since contacted the Seattle Special Education PTSA, the NAACP, the Latinx community with public health, Seattle Color Families, the Somali community and Native American families.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, council again delayed the vote.
“Personally, I wanted to be able to bring them the revised version [the community] and check if that sufficiently reflects what we discussed, ”said board chair Chandra Hampson, who said she still supported the resolution. Other council members said they wanted time to discuss the resolution with families to minimize confusion.
The resolution calls on the Washington State Board of Health to make COVID vaccinations a requirement for students aged 5 and older. The resolution says requiring that students be vaccinated will create a safer environment in schools and allow more students to access in-person learning, and notes that there have been higher rates of coronavirus among Seattle students furthest from “educational justice – in particular, those communities with the greatest number of black male students.”
The State Health Council is working with the State Department of Health to begin convening a technical advisory group to consider adding the COVID vaccine to the list of vaccines for students, Kelie Kahler said, spokesperson for the State Health Council. The board “plans” to hold a briefing in January at its public meeting to discuss the advisory group’s progress.
Washington school districts do not have the power to require that students receive a particular vaccine – that authority rests with the state. But in California, some of the largest school districts have already taken action to require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The Los Angeles Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District require students 12 and older to receive the vaccine to attend school in person. The San Diego Unified School District requires students 16 and older to be immunized.
Last month, California became the first state in the country to announce a plan to add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of vaccinations to attend in-person school for middle and high school students.
Since the start of the school year, 605 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in Seattle schools, according to its COVID-19 dashboard. The majority of cases have occurred in the southern part of the district.