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FRCOG, area nurses join with state to bring Vax Bus clinics to schools

  • Child-size doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. AP PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2021 6:26:33 PM

With the recent approval for children to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) and local nurse leaders are partnering with the state to bring the Pfizer vaccine directly to schools.

“Schools right now — it’s very, very tough for schools to be in session,” said Phoebe Walker, director of community services for FRCOG. “The fact small children aren’t vaccinated makes it really hard to protect everybody in school and ensure continuation of education. This really expresses a need of the school nurses in our region, who can see how much this is impacting the students.”

As of Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all approved the Pfizer vaccine for children between 5 and 11 years old. Vaccination will involve two doses, spaced three weeks apart, and each dose will be one-third the dose potency administered to an adult.

To make access easy, the state Department of Public Health “Vax Bus” is scheduled to administer COVID-19 vaccines at public elementary schools throughout Franklin County, as well as at two clinics in Hampshire County.

Walker said the idea was that parents or guardians — or even older siblings — would be able to get their child a vaccination when they’re already there for regular dropoff or pickup.

“This hopefully reduces barriers to families getting the vaccine,” she said.

While the mobile clinics are geared toward the younger segment of the population, they are also open to anyone who is looking for an adult vaccination (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson will be available), or who is eligible for a booster shot. Children who are not enrolled as students at schools where clinics will be held are also still eligible to be vaccinated there.

“I’m very excited to be able to bring this resource directly to the families,” said Kelly Savitri, a school nurse in Greenfield, where clinics are scheduled at Federal Street School and Newton School. “We’re hoping that by bringing it directly to the schools, families will be able to access it in the most convenient way they can.”

Sheryl Stanton, superintendent of Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, said the clinic will offer an “incredible benefit” to district families.

“We recognize in our rural areas that access to health care is a challenge, particularly with our families where transportation is a challenge and public transit is a challenge,” Stanton said. “We’re very excited to have this opportunity to offer our families.”

She said in the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont school districts the emphasis on vaccines as a mitigation strategy is not placed on the individual benefit but rather the community benefit.

“It isn’t necessarily about me as an individual; it’s about those in the community that may not be able to get a vaccination or may not be able to wear a mask,” she said. “Our behavior is part of a collective effort to make sure everyone can stay safe and healthy.”

Meg Burch, nurse manager at Frontier Regional and Union 38 school districts, added that the benefit of increased vaccinations is that risk is reduced, case numbers are reduced and there are fewer close contacts.

“It alleviates some of the pressure on school nurses and reduces their workload,” Burch said. “And as school nurses are spending less time responding to cases, they have more time to focus on the usual activities of the health office, which first and foremost is to provide nursing care to our students.”

Burch also said the additional layer of protection provided by the vaccine, combined with keeping cases low, could mean the beginning of discussions on how existing COVID-19 health safety protocols might change.

“We haven’t had those conversations, but (vaccination) gets us close to where we can have those discussions,” she said.

Burch said she imagines the ability for children to get vaccinated will bring many parents reassurance.

“It changes what the protocol is once a student is fully vaccinated, in terms of whether they’re a close contact in the school,” she said. “For some families, it means their child is able to continue at school as long as they have no symptoms.”

Burch said higher vaccination status will allow what happens in school to go “more smoothly and naturally,” due to the fewer number of positive COVID-19 cases.

“Ultimately, those that benefit the most are the students, because the energy and the focus is on their needs and their education, which is what we all want to be focusing on,” she said.

Still, nurses and administrators acknowledged that some families may still be apprehensive about getting their young ones vaccinated.

“I would advise parents to speak with their primary care doctor, and really get a trusted medical perspective,” Savitri said.

Others in her position echoed a similar sentiment for parents who may be apprehensive about vaccinating their children.

“I would recommend people speak to their regular pediatrician and get advice from their regular family doctor,” said Heather Bianchi, school nurse at Dexter Park School in Orange.

Likewise, Stanton recommended families speak with their pediatricians.

“We as a community vaccinate, and COVID-19 is much like the other vaccinations we do as a community to make sure we are healthy and safe,” she said. “If there are questions or concerns, I would say talk to your pediatrician, because people are concerned and we understand that.”

Savitri said she is grateful for the effort of FRCOG, specifically Walker, who has advocated for the needs of school nurses throughout the pandemic.

“She advocated for us and worked with Sen. Jo Comerford and really took some of the burden off our shoulders,” Savitri said. “I feel like their work with FRCOG made this so much easier so that really, as nurse leaders, all we had to do was pick the date.”

Registrations can be made at franklincountymavaccine.org.

Vax Bus dates, registration links

>sbull<Nov. 12: Pioneer Valley Regional School (Northfield).

>sbull<Nov. 15: Federal Street School (Greenfield).

>sbull<Nov. 16: Anne T. Dunphy School (Williamsburg).

>sbull<Nov. 17: Deerfield Elementary School.

>sbull<Nov. 18: William E. Norris School (Southampton).

>sbull<Nov. 19: Sunderland Elementary School.

>sbull<Nov. 22: Newton School (Greenfield).

>sbull<Nov. 23 Erving Elementary School.

>sbull<Nov. 29: Sheffield Elementary School (Turners Falls).

>sbull<Nov. 30: Hawlemont Regional School (Charlemont).

>sbull<Dec. 1: Dexter Park School (Orange).

>sbull<Dec. 2: Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School (Shelburne).

>sbull<Dec. 3: Leverett Elementary School.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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