After canceling classes, Chicago vaccinated about 6,600 students

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez speaks during a press conference. A woman wearing a blue pantsuit and surgical mask looks on in the background.
Following vaccination push, Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said he was pleased by “strong numbers” and said they planned to host more vaccination events before the end of the year. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

More than 6,600 Chicago school district students received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last Friday as part of the citywide Vaccination Awareness Day aimed at getting school-aged children inoculated.  

But rates of uptake were not even across the city, with Black and Latino students trailing behind.

Chicago’s health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez on Tuesday lauded the vaccination campaign after 6,687 Chicago Public Schools students, or about 1% of the school body, were inoculated as part of the latest push.

Overall, about 8,300 children across the city received their first doses last Friday — the single-largest day for youth vaccination to date, Arwady said.

“I’ve been very pleased about the early uptake” for 5- to 11-year-olds, Arwady said. 

Nearly 13,000 Chicago students, age 5-17, received the vaccine through the weekend. 

Still, Arwady and Martinez stressed the importance of protecting families and school communities by getting vaccinated amid an uptick in coronavirus cases across the city.

“Getting your children vaccinated is the number one thing you can do to help not disrupt their education,” Arwady said.

The latest calls to get vaccinated come days after a citywide campaign dubbed “Vaccination Awareness Day.” As part of the effort, Chicago Public Schools canceled classes on Nov. 12 to allow parents to get their children vaccinated after the federal government approved the COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. 

More than 5,800 students age 5-11 were vaccinated on Friday. Through the weekend, the number of 5- to 11-year-olds getting vaccinated exceeded 11,400. 

“This is the beginning,” Martinez said. “I’m very pleased we had strong numbers.”

Vaccination rates among students 12 and up, who have been eligible for the vaccine since May, saw an increase but remain low. About 48% of students age 12-17 have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of the last week of October, compared with a citywide average of 76% among residents 18 and older.

While the weekend saw an increase among vaccinations for Black and Latino students, Arwady and Martinez acknowledged lagging rates in the respective communities compared to Asian American and white students.

As the district analyzes numbers, Martinez said officials are working with principals and teachers to understand and work through lingering vaccine hesitancy among parents. They plan to work with trusted regional providers for upcoming vaccine events. 

Moving forward, the district plans on hosting over 133 events through the end of the year. 

Ahead of last week’s “Vaccination Awareness Day,” Arwady and Martinez urged parents to take their students to get vaccinated at their pediatrician’s office. They said the school sites were only meant to complement doctor’s offices, clinics, and pharmacies. 

The teachers union, parents, and activist groups have long called on the district and city to open more school vaccination sites for greater vaccine access, especially for children who don’t regularly go to a pediatrician. 

“CPS families should not have to travel miles or cross major neighborhood boundaries to get their children vaccinated,” CTU President Jesse Sharkey said last week.

Sharkey said Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the district needed to prioritize “neighborhoods with limited access, low vaccination rates for outreach and engagement, and putting a vaccination site in every school community.”

Along with the push to get as many students vaccinated, Chicago schools plan to roll out a test-to-stay pilot program, aimed at curbing the number of students quarantined across campuses. Such programs will allow unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 the option of frequent testing to stay on campus. Vaccinated students aren’t required to quarantine after an exposure unless they show symptoms, officials said.

The school-based testing program has been criticized for its convoluted opt-in process. Months in the school year, the opt-in rates across the district remain low.

The district plans to implement the test-to-stay program at the end of the month, Martinez said.

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