TODAY'S PAPER
Good Morning
Good Morning
NewsHealthCoronavirus

Long Island schools answering feds' call for help ending pandemic

Children, ages 5-11, last Wednesday after receiving their

Children, ages 5-11, last Wednesday after receiving their first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Mount Sinai South Nassau. Credit: Reece T. Williams

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Bart Jones and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.

Long Island schools are starting efforts to vaccinate children against COVID-19 in response to a nationwide call by the federal government for educators' help ending the pandemic.

Mount Sinai South Nassau is planning to bring its Vaxmobile to the Baldwin, Freeport and Island Park school districts to administer COVID-19 vaccines, hospital and school officials said Monday.

Plainview-Old Bethpage as well as other districts have said they hope to set up vaccination clinics as well.

Separately, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that New York City workers and contractors will receive four hours of paid sick leave to get their children ages 5 to 18 vaccinated against the virus.

Federal officials last week authorized the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, the newest eligible group, consisting of about 28 million people.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona are sending a letter to school districts across the country calling on them to organize vaccine clinics for their newly eligible students.

School districts that take part can tap into billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief money to support pediatric vaccination efforts.

Some Long Island school districts are resisting getting more involved in a vaccination effort.

What to know

  • Long Island schools are starting efforts to vaccinate children against COVID-19 in response to a call by the federal government for educators' help ending the pandemic.
  • Federal health officials are encouraging schools to host community conversations and share fact sheets on the vaccines to reduce the potential for misinformation.
  • Mount Sinai South Nassau is planning to bring its Vaxmobile to the Baldwin, Freeport and Island Park school districts to administer COVID-19 vaccines

The Lindenhurst Board of Education recently posted a letter on its website asking Gov. Kathy Hochul not to impose a vaccine mandate for students.

"If legislation were to pass a bill for mandatory COVID- 19 vaccinations, students, whose parents or legal guardians determined that the unknown risks of such an immunization outweigh the benefit, could be refused access to the free public education that is granted to them by law," the school leaders wrote in the letter dated Nov. 1.

"We feel passionately that it is a parent’s responsibility — and no one else’s — to make the determination as to whether or not a child should receive a vaccination that will remain in the experimental stage until 2023," the letter continued.

In a statement Monday, Lindenhurst school board president Donna Hochman said the district sent the letter "to voice the concerns of our residents in writing to the Governor’s office in order to protect the rights of our educational community. … Additionally, we did not feel that the community would have been in favor of hosting a vaccination site at a district school."

Medical experts say the COVID-19 vaccines are safe for children ages 5 to 17, and can sharply reduce the number of children who are hospitalized or die from the virus.

Hochul has called on schools to help in the vaccination campaign, and said she has not ruled out a mandate for school-age children, the same way vaccines are mandatory for other diseases such as measles and chickenpox.

The Biden administration is providing local districts with tools to help schools partner with pharmacies to administer shots. It's also asking schools to share information on the benefits of vaccines and details about the vaccination process with parents — an effort to combat disinformation surrounding the shots.

The effort includes encouraging schools to host community conversations and share fact sheets on the vaccines, and working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to connect local physicians with schools to share science-based information about the shots.

Districts partnering with health systems

The Baldwin school district has already partnered with Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital to have its Vaxmobile set up at district schools, Superintendent Shari Camhi said Monday.

The district is working to set a date for later this month to accommodate younger children who just became eligible, she said.

"What we have been trying to do for those people who want to be vaccinated or tested — we tried to make it easier," Camhi said

The Vaxmobile is staffed by health care professionals who travel to different sites to provide mobile vaccination. Camhi said the district tries to avoid the politics of vaccinations. Instead, the district makes it easier for residents to access the shots, she said.

The district has long offered in-district testing and the vaccinations, when they were made available, became an extension of that, Camhi said. The Vaxmobile has become a very welcome and convenient resource in the community, she said.

In statement Monday, Mount Sinai said: "Our partnership with schools has been key in our ongoing effort to reach young people needing the vaccine and to increase vaccination rates in hard hit communities. We have found that by bringing the Vaxmobile directly to schools, we greatly increase the chances of success as we are able to engage directly with parents who may have questions or be hesitant about the vaccine."

In Plainview-Old Bethpage, schools Superintendent Mary O’Meara said Monday that the New York State Department of Health recently surveyed all superintendents statewide about their districts' willingness to participate as vaccination sites.

O’Meara's district has already served as a site and is planning another on Nov. 16 for senior citizens and staff members who are eligible for a booster, she said.

The district has not scheduled a vaccination site for children in the newly eligible age group, she said. The district wants to avoid the perception that it's pushing parents to get their children vaccinated, according to O'Meara. The efforts are a "convenience" for the community, she said, much like the district's testing sites.

State health department officials said Monday they did not immediately have information on results of the survey.

Demand to get children vaccinated has climbed since its approval last week, said Dr. Kerry Fierstein, a pediatrician, but less than she expected.

A mass vaccination clinic being planned for this weekend in Nassau County by Allied Physicians Group, a Melville-based partnership of 150 pediatric providers, has filled 1,000 spots with appointments so far although a total of 2,000 spots are available for the two-day event, Fierstein said.

New York City's new sick leave policy

The New York City policy, which is retroactive to Nov. 2, provides time off for workers for each of their child getting a COVID-19 vaccination. The time, de Blasio said, can be used for the child to get the shot or to recover from any potential side effects.

"We want to make to easy," he said. "We want to make it conducive. We want to say to parents ‘whatever it takes we are going to do it.’ This is something parents deserve. You shouldn’t have to choose between your paycheck and the health of your family."

Since the vaccine became available to adolescents ages 5-11 on Thursday, almost 17,000 children have been vaccinated in New York City, de Blasio said.

But the mayor and city officials acknowledged that demand overwhelmed supply at some city schools on Monday — the first day the vaccine was made available at some elementary schools.

"We are seeing unprecedented demand at certain school sites that, in some of these sites, is exceeding the amount of vaccine that is currently there," said City Health Commissioner David Chokshi, who said the department will shift supply when needed and add additional vaccination days at certain schools.

Every grade school in the city that serves students ages 5-11, de Blasio said, will have at least one vaccination day this week.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing for COVID-19 was 2.45% on Long Island and 2.59% statewide, according to state data Monday.

The number of new confirmed cases was 153 in Nassau County, 274 in Suffolk County and 786 in New York City.

Across the state 30 people died on Sunday of causes linked to the virus, including one fatality in Suffolk.

With AP

Sign up to get text alerts about COVID-19 and other topics at newsday.com/text.

Health