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Photo courtesy Hamilton County Schools / Hamilton County Schools held its first student vaccination event at Brainerd High School on Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

The Tennessee Department of Health announced Wednesday that it has approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12-15 and local health departments may begin vaccinations on Friday. Hamilton County Health Department officials said Tuesday they were working on plans for vaccinating the age group, but no additional details were immediately available.

Schools in the Chattanooga area began holding vaccination events for students aged 16 and older earlier this year, and such events will likely continue for the new age group after the updates to national and state guidelines on expanded eligibility.

The Get Vaccinated Chattanooga campaign encourages vaccinations for vulnerable populations in the community, including children. In an April interview with the Times Free Press, Hamilton County Schools COVID-19 fellow Ryan Ledford said that work on the pediatric K-12 subgroup intersects with other populations and that campaign messaging provides information about what vaccines look like for children.

"We're going to get messaging out to families about 'Hey, there's a Pfizer 16-plus right now, and then Moderna and Pfizer are working on getting a 12-15 vaccine' and just kind of providing information about what it looks like for pediatric dose, what are the steps, what they can expect moving forward, and just planting that initial seed of like, 'It's a good idea to get vaccinated and here's all the information [so] you can make that decision for your students or your child,'" Ledford said.

Hamilton County Schools held its first vaccination event for students May 5 at Brainerd High School. The district partnered with Thrifty MedPlus Pharmacy to administer 56 vaccines to 32 students and their family members, said district communications officer Cody Patterson.

The district has tentative plans for more events, but no additional details are available now, Patterson said.

McCallie School began vaccinating students on campus in April through a partnership with Access Pharmacy, first with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine followed by two events with the Pfizer vaccine. About 250 students have taken one dose of the vaccine so far, McCallie spokesperson Bill Steverson said in an email.

"We are finalizing plans for at least one more clinic before school ends, and looking at the need/opportunity of offering on-campus clinics during the summer months," Steverson said.

The school plans to offer the vaccine to kids 12 and older, Steverson said, and a survey sent out last week from its health services staff states that 67% of students age 16 and older have already received one shot.

Baylor began providing vaccination opportunities to students in April, with a bus taking 23 boarding students to local vaccination sites last month. The school also partnered with Access Pharmacy to administer vaccines to students age 16 and older on April 27, according to a Tuesday email from Baylor spokesperson Barbara Kennedy.

About 40 students were vaccinated on that date, and both first and second dose shots will be offered at a follow-up event on May 18. The school will extend sign-ups to students aged 12-15 pending updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and approval from the Tennessee Board of Health, she said.

For Dr. Jay Sizemore, director of infectious disease at Erlanger Health System, the potential expansion could help combat vaccine hesitancy.

"Much like the J&J pause led to, I think, increased hesitancy, I'm hoping that this expansion in age group will reduce some of the hesitancy across our community, across the state and across the country," Sizemore said. "Time will tell whether or not that's the case, but I think certainly here in Tennessee we've lagged behind the rest of the country with respect to percentage of population vaccinated, and I think for us to reach so-called normal life, that we need to continue to promote and educate our community about the vaccine, and I think that's really going to help us get there, where everybody wants to be, faster."

Staff writer Elizabeth Fite contributed to this story.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

 

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