About 2,200 Tompkins County kids have the first dose of a COVID vaccine in their arms, according to Frank Kruppa, Tompkins County public health director.
Since the Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5 to 11 year-olds late October, the local health department has run two weekend clinics at the Shops at Ithaca Mall, with another this Friday. Some parents felt relief, while others wondered how vaccines may change COVID policies in Ithaca City District schools.
Anne Johnson is the mother of a 5-year-old kindergarten student. She had her child vaccinated through the health department as soon as appointments became available. Johnson said she’s both happy that her child is vaccinated and impressed with how the vaccine clinic for children was run.
“They were playing Disney music, the Frozen soundtrack, and they had reading books and coloring pages and crayons and lollipops,” Johnson said. “I thought they did a really nice job for the kids.”
Not everyone was able to secure an appointment right away. Aubryn Sidle grad has two elementary-aged children and plans to get them vaccinated. But she said she missed the initial notices from the school district that told parents to check their emails for a link to make vaccine appointments.
By the time she was done teaching her class at Cornell, all the spots were filled. Sidle said she was able to make an appointment in Trumansburg, but noted not everyone has access to private transportation.
“You had to be a person who had regular access to the internet. You had to be a person with a job that allowed you to spend hours on end, refreshing an internet screen,” Sidle said, reflecting on the inequities of vaccine distribution. “You had to be savvy enough to know how to navigate those kinds of systems on the internet.”
Now that children are getting vaccinated, Johnson said she hopes higher vaccination rates among children will cut down on how many young students will need to be quarantined due to close contact with positive cases. This fall, Johnson’s child had two exposures on the school bus.
“It’s so disruptive for the children and the teachers and everybody,” Johnson said. “I’m hoping that if the children start to get vaccinated, if there’s an exposure or a positive case, the students can just stay in school. Because I think it’s really hard on parents when suddenly their child has to stay home for a week.”
Kruppa said fully vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine if they are considered close contacts. But beyond the health department’s contact tracing, the district says it cannot ask students about their vaccination status, citing privacy concerns.
“All of us working parents want to know, if our kid has a runny nose but is vaccinated, what are the new rules now for returning a kid to school, during illness or after illness?” Sidle said. “When will we be required to have a COVID test, and when will we not?”
Sofi Gluck teaches at Ithaca High School, where more students have been eligible for the vaccine since the spring. Since she has no data about vaccination rates among her students, she is still worried about COVID spread in the school building.
She also has a 6-year-old and 9-year-old at home, who both received their first doses of the shot this month. While she is thrilled that her children are vaccinated, she said she’s wary about the loosening of restrictions, particularly on mask-wearing, unless there was a vaccine mandate for students.
Uncertainties aside, many parents said they hope children’s vaccinations point toward a bit more normalcy and protect others at risk.
“I just think getting a vaccine for your child is a pretty reasonable, straightforward thing to do in the middle of a pandemic,” Johnson said.