Starting Monday, children ages 5 to 11 enrolled in New York City public schools will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 during school hours. Federal government agencies approved the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine for that age group last week.
Over five days, city health personnel will visit more than 1,000 public schools, with plans to vaccinate thousands of children. Parents and guardians can also bring children to city-run vaccine clinics and to the offices of one of about 1,500 pediatric and family doctors’ offices that are partnering with the city to administer the shots.
There are about 400,000 public school students in the age range newly eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Education, and prior vaccination efforts in schools have yielded about 7,000 total immunizations for older children.
Children aged 5 to 11 who receive their vaccination at either school sites or in city-run clinics will receive a $100 gift card for their families, the city announced Thursday.
“Everyone can use a little more money around the holidays, but most importantly we want our kids and our families to be safe,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Thursday news conference.
Here are answers to some common questions about the school vaccination program and the shots for children.
Are the vaccines considered safe for young children?
Yes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that clinical data show that the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine is overwhelmingly effective at preventing coronavirus infections, as well as serious COVID-19 disease. No serious side effects have been found in the ongoing study of 3,100 children who have received the vaccine, the agency said.
The vaccine is administered in two child-size doses, about a third the size of an adult dose, three weeks apart. The city will return to schools in three weeks to administer the second doses.
The vaccines are highly effective in children, according to New York City health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, and side effects seen in children from the doses — such as arm pain, headaches and body aches — have appeared to be more mild than side effects in older age groups.
For more information, see the FAQ on the New York State government website.
At which schools will students receive vaccinations?
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that the vaccination effort will reach about 1,070 city public schools that enroll children aged 5-11 years old; city nurses and clinicians will be going to about 200 schools each day.
How can I make sure my child gets a shot?
Your child’s school should inform you what day vaccination staff will arrive at the school. Students must either be accompanied by a parent or guardian, carry written vaccine approval from a parent or guardian, or the parent or guardian can give verbal approval over the phone to a school staff member.
Students will be taken individually from their classes for shots between either 7:30 and 11 a.m. or between 12:30 and 4:30 p.m., depending on the school.
What if my child experiences side effects from the vaccine?
In general, doctors say side effects from the vaccine in children are mild when compared to adult side effects. According to a DOE spokesperson, if a child starts feeling ill after their shot, “the school will follow standard procedures for contacting the parent or guardian for pick up.”
If the student feels ill the following morning, and can’t come to school, the parent or guardian should alert the school. “This will be handled just like any other sick day,” an education department spokesperson said in an email.
I’ve seen reports of some nursing shortages in schools. Will this be an issue?
The city’s education department said that every school has nursing coverage, and that the city recruits from local nursing agencies to bulk up their vaccination staff as necessary. Additionally, the department spokesperson said, the city is relying on health workers “who are professionally trained to work with young people.”
My child is afraid of needles, but I won’t be able to accompany them for the shot. Will they have support at the school?
Parents and guardians can designate specific school staff who their child may feel most comfortable with to accompany the child for their shot, the education department spokesperson said. Schools are also creating immunization areas that are “as comfortable as possible” for children.