The Biden administration on Monday kicked off “a nationwide effort” to encourage schools, parents and guardians to vaccinate children against COVID, saying “vaccination is the best tool we have” to ensure students are safe, and that schools remain opened for in-person learning.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Health and Human Service Secretary Xavier Becerra sent a letter to school superintendents and elementary school principals across the nation Monday morning, encouraging them to share information with families about COVID-19 vaccines for children.
The letter comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 years old.
“Today, we reach out to you with encouragement for you to actively support the vaccination process for children in your state, territories, county, tribes, communities and schools,” they wrote. “This is a very exciting development and a significant opportunity to protect some of our youngest learners and our communities.”
“Vaccination is the best tool we have to keep our students safe from COVID-19, maintain in-person learning, and prevent the closure of schools and cancellation of valued extracurricular activities,” they wrote, adding that vaccination, “paired with prevention strategies” like masking, testing, tracing, distancing and improving ventilation “can significantly limit COVID-19 transmission.”
“Schools play a vital role in providing access to and trusted information on the vaccine,” they wrote, adding that “parents listen closely to school leaders and personnel.”
“We urge you to do all you can to help parents and families learn about the vaccine and get access to it,” they wrote.
Cardona and Becerra requested that schools host COVID-19 vaccine clinics, noting that the CDC has developed resources for schools to use in standing clinics up, and pointing to funding in the American Rescue Plan and through FEMA “to ensure that you can cover all costs of hosting a clinic.”
They also requested that schools distribute information about the COVID-19 vaccines to all families with children between the ages of 5 and 11.
“Parents rely on their children’s teachers, principals, school nurses, and other school personnel to help keep their students safe and healthy every school year,” they wrote. “The communications you issue—in languages accessible to your parents—will be critical in helping families learn more about the vaccine.”
They added: “We encourage you to use this opportunity to highlight the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and explain why they are critical to protecting individuals from COVID-19, lowing community and family transmission, and keeping children safely in in-person learning.”
Cardona and Becerra said that, “as parents ourselves, we understand that parents of children who are newly eligible for the vaccine will have questions about the vaccine.”
They also urged schools to hold conversations and community engagements on COVID vaccines with parents in partnership with local pediatricians and other trusted medical voices in their communities.
Cardona and Becerra also suggested partnering with community or faith-based organizations as well as collaborating with student leaders “to make efforts fun and get young people to participate.”
“We need your help now more than ever to continue to protect our communities and our children,” they wrote.
The letter comes ahead of first lady Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s visit to a school vaccination clinic in Virginia on Monday.
That visit, according to a White House official, will “kick off a nationwide effort from the Biden administration to encourage parents and guardians to vaccinate children ages 5-11.”
The first lady’s visit will be the first White House visit to a pediatric COVID-19 vaccination clinic since the CDC’s recommendation of the use of the pediatric Pfizer vaccine on Nov. 2.
A White House official told Fox News that the effort will include the first lady, over the coming weeks, visiting pediatric COVID-19 vaccination clinics across the country, including at schools, children’s hospitals and other community sites, and will encourage more sites to offer vaccines for children in their communities.
The official also told Fox News that the Biden administration is encouraging school districts across the country to set up “school-located vaccine clinics” by using funds from the American Rescue Plan “to help operationalize these clinics,” and by using providers through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to administer vaccines.