Michigan’s new top doctor speaks on vaccines for kids

This story appeared in ABC 13. Read more here

In terms of vaccine progress in the state of Michigan, currently more than 59 percent of Michiganders over the age of 12 had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Tuesday, the nation came one step closer to vaccines being approved for children between the ages of 5 and 11.

An FDA panel gave the Pfizer version its stamp of approval, passing it on to the broader FDA and later, to the CDC.

13 On Your Side spoke with the state’s new chief health executive for the first time since her appointment in September.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasrian stepped in to a crisis, one she hoped to end on her watch.

Added protection for hundreds of thousands of Michigan kids, she said, felt like a step in the right direction.

“We are extremely excited about the availability of this vaccine,” Bagdasarian relayed via Zoom Wednesday.

That’s because it’s a key component of the fight to curb COVID, according to the state’s new top doc.

“This new vaccine availability for those aged 5 to 11 opens up protection for an age group that had been completely unvaccinated and was unable to take advantage of that level of protection,” she explained.

In Michigan, that age group accounts for 825,000 currently unvaccinated residents.

Bagdasarian revealed to 13 On Your Side that the state had put in an order for 287,000 doses as part of its initial allotment.

“We’ve already got providers who are pre-booking vaccine doses,” Bagdasarian said. “We’ll have about 4,000 vaccine providers around the state… I think that things will move fast once we get that final approval.”

“The vaccine is safe and we’re encouraging families to consider it,” said Kim Baron, Grand Rapids Public Schools’ director of health services.

An effort that may come to depend, in part, upon the schools themselves. Baron is instrumental in coordinating the district’s approach with county health officials in terms of next steps.

“We are, again, just going to take their lead on what assistance they need from us, whether it’s facilities or personnel,” she said. “Encourage as many families to consider vaccinating their children.”

But that’s increasingly a bit of a sore spot.

Once mundane school board meetings have been transformed into hotbeds of COVID controversy.

The heated debate has stoked protests, even death threats on the national level.

This week, Grand Rapids Public Schools launched a series of informational panel discussions geared to curb vaccine hesitancy.

As always, Baron said, their work should serve as a resource for parents with questions.

“It will mean a lot more students can avoid having a quarantine and less severe illness, less hospitalizations, all of those benefits,” Baron said.

“If you’re a parent out there and you’re on the fence… speak to your pediatrician,” Bagdasarian suggested. “When I talk to my physician colleagues around the state, the vast majority of us are really excited to get our own kids vaccinated.”

Unlike that choppy, chaotic first rollout, getting shots into the right hands now shouldn’t be a problem despite a national supply chain bottleneck, Bagdasarian explained.

“If there is so much demand that it outpaces our supply, I think that’s one of the best problems we could have,” she said. “We’re really excited to have this vaccine available soon and to move forward with the next step of ending this pandemic.”

13 On Your Side reached out to more than a dozen West Michigan School Districts to determine whether they would be willing to play a role in distribution efforts pending final approval.

Statements received by the time of publication are included below in alphabetical order. Additional statements will be added as they are received.

Allendale Public Schools: “The Ottawa ISD superintendents meet every week with the OCDPH. The rollout of the vaccine for 5-12-year-olds has been a priority topic of late. In Allendale we will not be requiring students to be vaccinated and we do not have plans for an on-campus clinic at this time.“

Caledonia Community Schools: “The district will not be making any decisions until further information is provided by local health officials. Our district has no plans to [host a vaccination clinic] at this time.”

Cedar Springs Public Schools: “Cedar Springs Public Schools is not planning on hosting a vaccine clinic on our campus. We will work with the Kent County Health Department to find an appropriate location in our region to support a clinic if needed. We took a similar approach when the vaccine was made available for other groups. As a district, we believe important medical decisions are best left to the parents.”

Holland Public Schools: We will coordinate with Ottawa County for clinics for students and host clinics at our school sites. As far as I know there is no talk of requiring a vaccination in schools at this point.

Hudsonville Public Schools: “We continue to hold conversations with the health department regarding vaccinations for children 5-11. No decisions on hosting clinics have been made at this point until final approval is granted.”

Kalamazoo Public Schools: “Kalamazoo Public Schools Health and Safety Plan outlines a layered mitigation strategy. When presenting the plan to the Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Rita Raichoudhuri said “The first and the most effective layer is getting vaccinated when eligible. KPS has hosted several vaccination clinics in collaboration with our county health department and the Family Health Center and has promoted and continues to promote vaccinations.” The superintendent recently announced that the mask mandate will continue in all KPS schools for the second trimester, November 29 – March 11. The mask mandate will be reassessed for the third and final trimester of the school year.”

Lowell School District: “Lowell does not have any current plans to host vaccination clinics or institute vaccine mandates.”

Rockford Public Schools: “We are not planning to recommend a vaccine requirement policy for RPS students. As an educational partner, we strongly encourage families to consider following health department and CDC recommendations for their children. Should there be a need in our community for vaccine clinics, we will work with community partners to ensure they have adequate space to hold voluntary vaccination clinics. Rockford Public Schools has been working with our local health department throughout this pandemic to the extent that it impacts education and we expect that work to continue.”

Saugatuck Public Schools: “Saugatuck Public Schools has coordinated with the Allegan County Health Department to host vaccination clinics for our students, faculty, staff and community members on several occasions during the pandemic. We will continue to work with the Allegan County Health Department to host vaccination clinics including clinics open to children ages 5-11 when a vaccine is available for this age group. Saugatuck Public Schools is not considering requiring a COVID-19 vaccine for school attendance.”

Whitehall Schools: “WDS will coordinate with Muskegon County Public Health to share information regarding vaccine availability. If a vaccine clinic would be a benefit to the parents and families of WDS we would host one.”

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You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

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