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Detroit school district authorized to administer COVID vaccine at schools

School superintendent speaks to a sitting crowd and across from a TV monitor projecting an image about the COVID vaccine. Four other speakers stand to the right of the superintendent.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nicholas Vitti speaks during an event at Coleman A. Young Elementary School. The district announced that it is an authorized COVID immunization provider, providing school nurses authority to administer shots to students with parental consent.

Ethan Bakuli / Chalkbeat

The state health department has given the Detroit school district the OK to administer the COVID vaccine in schools, part of an effort to raise the immunization rate among the city’s school-age children.

School nurses in every building will be able to administer vaccine shots to students who have parental consent. 

The Detroit Public Schools Community District previously has hosted pop-up school-based vaccine clinics across the city in partnership with the Detroit Health Department and Wayne Health. The new authority from the state gives the district ongoing access to the vaccine throughout the school year.

“It’s about equity and access,” said Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. “With our students being here and our families being here, we just believed we can communicate faster, more efficiently, with a greater degree of trust, and eliminate a lot of the natural barriers that come along with getting a vaccine.” 

Detroit’s child vaccination rates have lagged behind those of nearby cities and the state. The city’s rate for children ages 5-11 is 11%, said Denise Fair Razo, director of the Detroit Health Department. For children ages 12-15, the rate is 30%, and for ages 16-19, the rate is 36%.

The city’s low vaccination rates and high infection rates contributed to a temporary return to remote instruction last month.

As of Feb. 10, the vaccination rate for Michigan children ages 5 to 11 was 22%; among 12- to 15-year-olds, the rate was 43.6%, and was 48.7% for 16- to-19-year-olds.

In an effort to encourage families to get their children vaccinated, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is providing $25 CVS gift cards to as many as 2,000 families that receive a vaccine through the district’s initiative.

State officials announced the vaccine initiative Monday morning during a press conference at Coleman A. Young Elementary School with Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, and Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The initiative will launch in six schools, with plans to expand to the district’s 107 buildings. The initial schools include: 

  • A.L. Holmes Academy of Blended Learning
  • Coleman A. Young Elementary School
  • Amelia Earhart Elementary-Middle School
  • Mumford High School
  • Osborn High School
  • Southeastern High School of Science and Technology.

The program expands the district’s partnership with state and local health departments, and Michigan’s Racial Disparities Task Force to close vaccination gaps in communities of color across the state. The state health department is providing the district with a $100,000 grant to set up mobile vaccination clinics, properly store and handle vaccine doses, and distribute permission slips.

“​​As a parent, I know it can be difficult to juggle work, doctor’s appointments, getting your kids to school on time, and be everything you need to be for you and your family,” Hertel said. “So we continue to work to make it as easy as possible for kids and adults to get their vaccines.”

Denise Cade, senior director of nursing for Detroit Public Schools Community District, said the district’s nursing team has been educating and providing information to families about the COVID vaccination.

“Our nurses are engaged, our nurses are knowledgeable, and they have been able to reach out to parents,” Cade said. 

“They are providing information and they are increasing science-based knowledge in our communities, and this is what is going to help us to dispel the myths that have held us behind in our ability to vaccinate our communities,” she said.

Parents and families will be notified of the program this week. The clinics will require signed consent formed from parents or legal guardians. The district plans to have clinics for first and second doses in every school by the end of June.

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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