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COVID-19 vaccines for kids are rolling out, but school policies won’t change as quickly

Children arrive at Hancock Place Elementary School in Lemay. The south St. Louis County district was one of the first in the region to bring students back to classrooms last fall.
File / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Students arrive at Hancock Place Elementary School in Lemay last year. Even as young children begin to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, many health policies like masking will not immediately change.

Updated at 12:30 p.m., Nov. 9, with SLPS' expanded hours for its vaccination clinic on Saturday.

Across St. Louis, 5- to 11-year-olds are starting to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean schools will immediately change their health policies.

School officials from several St. Louis-area districts said it’s still too early to make changes to COVID-19 policies, as young kids begin the vaccination process following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s final approval last week. For many districts, school boards or district administrators will decide whether to implement changes, while considering guidance from local and regional health agencies.

The first kids to get their shots in this age group will be fully vaccinated by mid-December, but schools should continue measures like masking, distancing, ventilation and keeping sick students or staff at home, said Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University.

“I don't think we're at the place to say, ‘Hey, let's start stopping masking,’ for example, but I think we're at a place that we should start having the conversation,” Newland said.

Newland said districts should monitor community spread, vaccination rates in schools and COVID-19 transmission in schools as they consider changes to health policies. He also said there is still a possibility that cold weather could bring another spike in cases, as it did at this time last year.

He cautioned that even when kids are vaccinated at a high rate, there could still be scenarios where mitigation strategies like masks are necessary again.

“The strategies might come and go just because we know how effective they are and how safe and how reliable they are at keeping everyone in school and keeping people healthy,” Newland said.

Officials from Mehlville School District, Maplewood Richmond Heights School District and St. Louis Public Schools all said no changes in protocol are currently planned. Mehlville’s Board of Education approves a COVID resolution each month.

In St. Louis Public Schools, more than 9,000 students are now eligible to be vaccinated in the 5- to 11-year-old age group.

“This is a game-changer for public education because it gives us an opportunity to keep students in the classroom,” SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams said at a press conference Thursday.

More than 3,000 students have been quarantined because of a potential exposure to COVID-19 in the district.

For now, St. Louis Public Schools is launching an effort to get as many students vaccinated as possible. The district is holding a vaccine clinic at Gateway Middle from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 13. For a list of other clinics offering vaccines to 5- to 11-year-olds, click this link.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke 

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.