SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday voted to recommend the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children 5-11, a move that came four days after the Food and Drug Administration approved a smaller dose for young people.
The unanimous vote by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—a 15-member group of doctors and other medical professionals—put a final stamp on countywide plans to vaccinate nearly 20,000 elementary-age children.
Beginning next week, every school site will offer the inoculation. The local vaccination efforts will also include drive-thru clinics.
According to the California Department of Public Health, 565,915 million children 5-17 have contracted Covid-19 statewide, and 26 have died as of Oct. 27.
According to Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah, the county is partnering with Inspire Diagnostics to provide the vaccines. The same organization is providing school-based Covid-19 testing countywide.
Under the plan, schools will schedule five teams of three people to provide the vaccine. This includes a technician to register the students, a nurse to give the vaccine and an EMT to monitor the students after the vaccine is given.
This process—bringing mobile teams to school sites—is a concern for Aptos resident Kristin Hurley, who hosts Mama Bear’s Radio Show on KSCO radio and is part of the group Guardians of Youth. That group of roughly 700 members was created to fight vaccine mandates.
Such a process, she says, does not allow for parents to fully understand the vaccine.
“You can’t tell me that they are properly informing parents of the risks to their children, and that concerns me,” she says.
Sabbah says that the county’s Department of Public Health has already ordered enough of the vaccine to go around. County officials are hoping to give it to 8,000 students—40% of the total—by the end of the year.
Such efforts are likely to garner opposition from a small but vocal population of parents who are skeptical of the vaccine, and who mistakenly believe that schools have mandated it. This is not true, Sabbah says.
“This is a voluntary effort,” he said.
A group of about 75 people demonstrated against what they believed to be vaccine mandates outside the County Office of Education during an Oct. 21 board meeting. Sabbah says the meeting was briefly forced to recess after a smaller group entered the offices looking for board members.
The COE supports public comment and freedom of speech, Sabbah says, but he added that storming the building was “inappropriate and counterproductive.”
“This is especially true because the policies this group was demonstrating against would be set at the state level, not by the Board of Education or local school leaders,” he stated in a social media post. “This was an unfortunate decision made by a group of demonstrators who were otherwise civil in expressing their views through public comment and peaceful assembly.”
A vaccine mandate could come to pass next year. On Oct. 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he planned to add the Covid-19 shot to the list of vaccines required for young people to attend school, once the FDA grants full approval—it is currently approved under an Emergency Use Authorization. If that happens, it would make California the first state to require the vaccine.
That is what worries Hurley.
“It has to be a matter of personal choice,” she says.
Hurley also worries that the process of approval—normally a years-long process—moved too quickly for anyone to be sure the vaccine is safe.
“They’re really expediting this whole process, out of interests other than public health,” she said. “They are putting the interests of the pharmaceutical industry ahead of the best interests of the American people in terms of safety and efficacy studies.”
In a statement in July, Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. said that the approval process met the agency’s “rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization.”
Hurley says she and other activists have met with Assemblymember Mark Stone and State Senator John Laird to ask for their help in the matter.
Hurley says that young people in Santa Cruz County have been hospitalized after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, an assertion county spokesman Jason Hoppin says is untrue.
“County Public Health meets with hospitals twice a week, and we’ve never heard of any youth being hospitalized due to an adverse reaction to the Covid vaccine,” he stated in an email.
Sabbah says his message to concerned parents is simple: “Talk to your pediatrician. Get information from reliable sources. Make your decisions based on what is best for your child.”
Pajaro Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Alicia Jimenez says the district will provide the vaccine to all families who want it.
For information, and to complete authorization forms and sign up, visit sccoe.link/getvax.