Sept. 25 — As the Food and Drug Administration grapples with approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5-11, local school boards and pediatricians question whether existing COVID-19 vaccines should be mandated, just as mumps or measles.
Both principals Mark Laurrie and Hank Stopinski, who work in very different districts — one in the heart of Niagara Falls and the other in the rural fields of Hartland and Royalton — are adamant about choosing to self-vaccinate and are supporters of COVID-19 vaccines as a way to keep children in school and safe.
But to force parents to give their children the opportunity? That is something completely different.
“I think there should be an encouraging peer-to-peer push,” said Laurie of Niagara Falls. “I’m not one for mandates. I believe that is the choice of the parents. I believe that the parents have that right for their child.”
Laurie said the problem is even more complicated than it appears at first, because of the problems with the children in his district receiving the mumps and measles vaccinations.
“We’re still working with kids to get those pictures,” he said. “Those aren’t even given and… HPV, which in my opinion is a very necessary teen shot for boys and girls. (There’s a) very low number (get it). So, if you mandate this now, you’re going to the school districts really divide it further and you get two districts: the remote and the personal, and the remote doesn’t work well.”
Roy-Hart’s Chief Inspector Stopinski said the decision was beyond his “skills.”
“I’m in favor of vaccinating children, there’s no question about that,” Stopinski said. “I would encourage everyone to do that. A mandate is something that I think is a public health issue that I think the scientist and the public health professionals really need to come together and make that decision. It’s not a school principal’s job.” to oblige.”
He noted that if it is mandatory, it will be treated like any other vaccine.
“All of these have been established because of public health concerns,” Stopinski said. “I’m not sure where the public opinion and science is about COVID. … I want our kids to be in person five days a week, and whatever it takes, in my mind, is what we need to do.”
Doctors weigh in
Pediatricians, too, seem wary of any mandate, even as they praise the results of the vaccines. dr. Chris Beney of Lockport spoke candidly.
“We’ve done about 2,500 tests from the office and about 13% of them are positive and I would say the majority of them are children,” Beney said. “From babies all the way up. I think the delta variant has hit kids harder than the first Covid that came out and it certainly seems to be targeting them more than the first round. … Some of them are getting very sick.”
When asked about a possible mandate, Beney said he would not comment, except that one of the positives of a vaccinated population is that lives would be saved.
“Will the mandate help save lives?” he continued. “I think so. A mandate would save lives. Either the lives of the children or the lives of the children’s relatives because in most cases they do well when the child gets Covid, but then they also spread it to their parents and we see young people getting very sick, young adults. When you vaccinate children, you vaccinate for them, but you also vaccinate them for people, they also spread it.”
Beney continued on that thread of viral control.
“The more cases we have, the more likely we are to get more variants,” he said. “The longer you let a virus spread, the more likely you are to get variants of that virus. If you can prevent cases, then you can prevent variants that result.”
dr. Shawn Ferguson of Lewiston Village Pediatrics also weighed in on the questions surrounding children being vaccinated and whether there should be a mandate.
“Right now it’s early to say because kids can’t be vaccinated except for the older kids and I don’t think we’ve vaccinated those long enough to get a good idea of how effective that has been,” he said. he. . “But we see in general, across all ages, that if kids have the vaccine, they can still get Covid, but you won’t get that sick… They’ll be much less likely to go to the hospital. … The younger kids, because they can’t get it (the vaccination), they’re much more vulnerable.”
As a doctor, Ferguson said he has received many questions from parents about vaccinations for their children. He also noted that it may be too early to mandate the COVID-19 virus vaccines, but once vaccines for mumps and measles became mandatory, they will be “incredibly effective.”
“There’s a lot of data showing that the vaccines are very safe, and there’s a lot of data showing how effective they are, but in terms of setting public health policies?” he said. “A lot of that will depend on how sick the kids get over time, but I wouldn’t be surprised…if at some point the public health officials decide to make that a mandate. Right now I think that’s premature but one day that could happen.”
As for the concerns, he is empathetic and does his best to provide a roadmap of what to expect.
“Most of the concerns come from misinformation in the media and social media and it seems like almost every day I hear something different that is absolutely not true and often we try to dispel this,” Ferguson said. “Often I notice in the kids… after the second dose some kids get a little bit of a fever, some a little bit tired. That’s the majority. Most kids have no symptoms at all. I’m just saying, especially after second dose, make no big plans the next day and if you’re feeling a little sick just watch some tv, some netflix and you’ll be fine.”
The Niagara Frontier YWCA has many services for those in need, including helping the homeless and those coming out of abusive relationships. One of its programs is the affordable before and after school care it offers to students.
While the organization has required its staff to be “100% vaccinated,” it does not make vaccination against COVID-19 a requirement for participation.
But no lack of encouragement.
“We are a very pro-vaccine organization,” said CEO Kathleen Granchelli. “From next Friday, 100% of our employees will be vaccinated. … We care for many vulnerable populations here, including children who, when it is available and safe for them, would very much wish they were vaccinated.”
“We don’t require participants, we just require staff,” she said. “We are not in a position to mandate any of those populations. … What we can control here is to create a safe environment for the women and children”
Grandchelli also noted that all CDC guidelines, including masks and social distancing, continue to be followed.
The local pediatrician, Dr. Bill Baier, gave some advice to the Lockport School Board at their Wednesday meeting.
“I think one of the things we’ve received recently is the fact that there’s been a rise in the number of children who have suddenly had COVID or COVID variants,” Baier said. “One of the things that people need to consider is the vaccine for children. I think it’s a step in the right direction in our duty to get the kids back to school.”
Baier cited the incoming FDA decision on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
“Not only will they be able to give the kids between the ages of 12 and 17, they’re also introducing shots for kids ages five to 11,” he continued. “I think it’s one of the bigger things, it’s still in the works. … All in all, it’s a step in the right direction.”