More than 4,000 students at Oak Park Elementary School District 97 will become eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine – if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approves the Pfizer Covid vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 over the next few days. The CDC’s Advisory Committee is set to meet Nov. 2, ahead of Wednesday Journal’s print deadline, and discuss a recommendation for that age group.

The meeting comes just days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old. Since May, the Pfizer Covid vaccine has been available for children 12 to 15 years old.

“We’re anticipating the CDC will have approval for us by Nov. 3,” said Theresa Chapple-McGruder, Oak Park’s public health director, adding she and other health officials are also waiting for directives on how to administer the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds since the dose and vaccine formula are specifically designed for that group of children.

Chapple-McGruder said the public health department has already partnered with District 97 and plans to host eight vaccine clinics across a four-day span pending federal approval. The clinics are tentatively scheduled for Nov. 9 to 12 with the second dose to be administered Nov. 30 to Dec. 3. These clinics are only open to D97 students and will be held at each of the district’s eight elementary schools, said Amanda Siegfried, D97’s senior director of communications. 

Families can expect a link to register once the vaccine has been approved, said Siegfried and Chapple-McGruder.

“We are doing two schools a night, and we believe that we could get 600 vaccinated in a night by taking this approach,” Chapple-McGruder said, noting the department is also working on separate plans to accommodate families with children who attend private schools or go to daycare or are home-schooled.

And, in order to pull this off, Chapple-McGruder is looking to the Oak Park community for some help. She said she would need about 75 volunteers a day to assist District 97’s students alone and is currently looking for medical professionals with pediatric experience to help with the upcoming vaccine clinics. Those interested can contact the public health department at covid19vaccine@oak-park.us.

School officials at River Forest District 90 are also looking to host a vaccine clinic for their 5- to 11-year-old students later this month. In partnership with a local Jewel-Osco and the Village of River Forest, District 90 has scheduled a vaccine clinic Nov. 19 at Roosevelt Middle School, according to an email sent to families Oct. 29 by Superintendent Ed Condon. Since February, D90 has worked with a River Forest-based Jewel-Osco and the village to release a series of clinics and help get area seniors, district employees and 12- to 15-year-olds vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

The Nov. 19 date is tentative and will be confirmed in the coming days, Condon wrote in the email. Condon, who briefly outlined a plan dependent on federal approval, said children would likely receive the first dose of the two-shot Pfizer Covid vaccine on Nov. 19 and the second dose on Dec. 10. That would mean the children participating in that clinic would be fully vaccinated by Christmas Day, he said.

As public health and school officials look forward to the CDC’s decision, Chapple-McGruder said she could not be more excited at the possibility that younger children would be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Last week, the Oak Park public health department reported 35 new cases of COVID-19, and a majority of them were among children between the ages of 5 and 13, said Chapple-McGruder. She said most of those children had parents who were fully vaccinated against Covid but grew concerned, as vaccinated individuals can still become infected.

“If we can get children vaccinated, we have now reduced the rate of Covid in our community by so much because we’re protecting our children, and we have another layer of protection for their vaccinated parents, too,” she said. “With this push, our rates in the community will really go back to that ‘moderate and low’ that we were seeing before because we’re reducing our vulnerable population.”

“The more we can continue to vaccinate our community, the better off the vulnerable people in our community will be,” she said.

90% of Oak Park parents will vaccinate kids

Oak Park Elementary School District 97 recently polled families to gauge their interest in getting their 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated against COVID-19. The district received 2,336 responses, which ultimately represented 3,458 students, Siegfried wrote in an email to the Journal.

According to the survey results, a little over 90% of D97 families are planning to get their newly eligible children vaccinated, while roughly 5% were not looking to vaccinate their children and the remaining 4% have yet to decide whether they would.

A majority of respondents (almost 56%) also preferred their children to be vaccinated at a clinic hosted by District 97 and/or the Oak Park public health department. Nearly 28% of families opted to get their children vaccinated by their healthcare providers. Other families (about 11%) said “they would take the first available vaccine” or expressed interest in attending a clinic held by D97 and the health department, while some 3% of families said they would like their children vaccinated at a pharmacy. 

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