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Newsday panel: Want your kids back in school? Get a COVID-19 vaccine

The ABCs of Returning to School and COVID-19

The ABCs of Returning to School and COVID-19 Vaccines: As vaccines become more available and vaccine safety testing for children proceeds, schools are becoming the focus. Should schools require vaccination of teachers and students, can they — and how should hesitant staff and parents respond?

With lingering uncertainty about when children can get vaccinated against the coronavirus, educators and health experts at a Newsday Live Webinar on Thursday recommended the next best thing — all adults need to get a jab.

That way, whenever students on Long Island return to in-person instruction, vaccinated or not, the likelihood of them spreading the virus to loved ones will be diminished, the experts said.

"When [students] go back home it’s very important that their parents and their grandparents, whoever they’re around, their siblings who are 16 and older, get vaccinated," said Dr. Michele C. Reed, owner and medical director for MS Family Medicine Health Care, PC in Garden City, "because otherwise, that same child is going back and forth from home to school spreading whatever they’ve been exposed to."

Reed made her comments during the webinar, "The ABCs of Returning to School and COVID-19 vaccines."

She said the federal government recommended "pause" in using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could lead to "increased hesitancy" toward getting the vaccine.

Others on the panel said there is only so much that can be done to convince skeptics a coronavirus vaccine is safe.

"You can’t force someone to do something … where the fear is so great and knowledge is incomplete," said Maria Rianna, superintendent of the Glen Cove City School District.

Teachers and staff members have asked her about getting the vaccine, Rianna said. It’s a question she wouldn’t answer, Rianna said.

"You want to make an informed decision," she said. "Information is generally given to us, but you specifically, your makeup, your history has to be something you discuss with your doctor."

Greg Perles, president of the North Shore Teachers’ Union said teachers are trying to get the vaccine.

"If we get every shot into every arm of every person who wants it," he said, "our schools are going to be to reopen. We’re going to get back to learning and we’re going to be safe."

Perles said there will be a "reflexive emotional response" about returning to in-person learning but people need to trust the science and the scientists giving the recommendations.

"I think if we start making decisions about vaccination policy or any policy in a school on the basis of anxiety and emotion rather than science, we’re using the wrong metric," he said. "Anxiety is real, but comfort isn’t a scientific metric. I’m looking to the scientists to point us in the right direction and I’m looking for my union to support wherever science points us because … we got to get kids back, we got to get it done safely."

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