By Eric Rosane / [email protected]
Recent Toledo graduate Nicholas Marty fears the pandemic. And that’s a question few of his peers probably think about.
“There is a feeling that since my generation is in their twenties, since we don’t get so sick from this virus (COVID-19), there might be less perceived need for (the vaccine),” a- he told The Chronicle. . “I think the most important thing, talking to people in my class and talking to my friends, is that there is a perceived sense of invulnerability, so why not even get the shot?”
A student representative from the Toledo school board, Marty, 18, conveyed these fears to the board in a 20-minute exit speech filled with, at times, rosy musings about his time at school.
Toledo High School was one of many rural schools that temporarily returned to distance learning last month due to the high number of cases.
“My concern is that since we just closed the high school, unless something drastically changes with the way people get vaccinated, I think it will be a constant worry for the future,” he said. he declares.
Office of the Superintendent of Public Education (OSPI) Ensuring Public School Districts Offer Full-Time In-Person Learning This Fall, Education Officials Struggle With Capped Immunization Rates, Get Eligible Students Immunized and how to approach creating another school year in the pandemic.
So far, 406 – or 7% – of Lewis County children aged 12 to 17 have been fully immunized, which is less than half the state’s average immunization rate in this age group. . Although the vaccine supply is already widely available, some health experts believe that the eventual approval of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and the extension of vaccinations to younger age groups could improve slow rates of the disease. State.
Part of that answer is awareness.
Washington state health officials and Superintendent of Public Education Chris Reykdal participated in a COVID-19 vaccination webinar hosted by two Washington state students on Wednesday. During the presentation, Reykdal told families and attendees quite clearly that vaccines will not be needed for public school staff and students this fall.
“The simple message for families is that there is no term at school that we are planning next year for students or staff, which is why it is so important if you are eligible for vaccination, please do it, ”he said. “It’s just a numbers game… We all have this community contribution, we all have this thing we can do for each other.”
Reykdal said the return to in-person learning this year was marked largely by low transmission rates, mainly due to schools closely following state and federal health guidelines, including the wearing of masks and social distancing.
Dr Scott Lindquist, acting health officer for the Washington State Department of Health, said there have been 237 outbreaks and more than 900 confirmed cases in schools since teaching began l t was last fall, but these outbreaks were largely minimal and caused by activities outside the classroom. .
“This means that 70% of these outbreaks were about two to three cases, which shows us that the controls put in place by schools and school districts were really controlling these outbreaks. These are not epidemics of monsters. And, to be quite frank, the largest percentage of these outbreaks were adults in school settings, ”he said.
April saw the highest number of outbreaks throughout the school year. But Lindquist, who has taken her child to in-person classes this year, said he felt it was overall a very safe environment for staff and students, especially if they are. vaccinated.
Public schools will most likely start school this fall the same way they ended it, but Lindquist said Washington state’s June 30 reopening date may bring more opportunities to relax. restrictions on public education.
But the pandemic is not over.
“This pandemic has seen four waves at this point. We have just passed the fourth wave, but we are at higher levels than ever, with the exception of last winter. These are pretty extreme levels. It will still require a lot of masking, social distancing and increased vaccination, ”Lindquist said.
JP Anderson, Lewis County director of public health and social services, said the county was busy promoting vaccination among its general population and had yet to establish metrics to determine where they would like to see vaccination of young people by fall.
“I think in general we would like to think that the more students there are vaccinated, the more likely schools are to stay open full time, in person, and epidemic free. The more students are vaccinated, the safer we think schools will be, ”he said.
The county has been working to engage with families to dispel myths surrounding the nascent COVID-19 vaccine, which was found to be extremely safe when it was approved for emergency use.
It was recently announced that pediatric clinics would see reimbursement for their work on immunization education, Anderson said.
“Our plan right now is to work closely with pediatricians to do everything we can to provide them with vaccines and partner with them,” he said.
Anderson said the lag they are seeing in vaccinating young people is similar to the one they are seeing in the general population.
Northwest Pediatrics pediatrician Dr. Maria Huang has given small group presentations and vaccine training with local school districts in Thurston and Lewis counties. She said the main concern of parents and families is that they feel they don’t have enough verified information about the shot.
People also approach it with questions about infertility, mistrust of new vaccines, and concerns about long-term side effects. She always responds by saying that the vaccine is completely safe for all current eligible age groups and has been backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“There are people who are open to information and welcoming, and there are people who are not. It was quite revealing, just to see how the public adopted the COVID vaccine, ”she said.
Over the past two decades, Huang said, there has been a massive drop in vaccination rates nationally and locally. This has been facilitated by disinformation spreading online at an alarming rate – sometimes much faster than verified and reliable information.
“It’s really concerning because we see whooping cough, measles, mumps – these are epidemics that we didn’t see before when most of our population was vaccinated and we had herd immunity, but over the years. In the last two decades we’ve seen much lower vaccination rates, ”she said.
With the release of the COVID-19 vaccine, Huang said there was also an immediately noticeable plateau, which still persists today.
“I think my biggest concern is that when I speak one-to-one with families, most of their concerns are anecdotal,” she said. “I think the community sees what they want to see in their social circle, but I think the pandemic has really shown us that we really need to come together and think bigger… to do things to not only serve our families but others.”
Although the pandemic has eaten up nearly half of his high school career, Nicholas Marty said his group of friends doesn’t revolve around who and who isn’t vaccinated – he has a mix of friends who are vaccinated and not. .
Among the teenagers, Marty said, there seems to be an indifference to all of this, although there have been many cases of young people who are seriously ill.
Marty, who has been vaccinated for about a month now, said he wishes the best for his community and hopes they achieve collective immunity.
“If Seattle is at 80%, that’s fine. But I’m worried about where Toledo is,” he said.