October 23, 2021

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What Is the Best Way to Get Teenagers Vaccinated?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 in the United States, a crucial step in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic and a boon to millions of American families eager for a return to normalcy.

The shots may also allow millions to get back to school, camps, Little League games, sleepovers and hangouts with friends.

What is your reaction to the news? Are you eager to get vaccinated? Or do you and your family have concerns about the newly available drug?

In “To Vaccinate Younger Teens, States and Cities Look to Schools, Camps, Even Beaches,” Abby Goodnough and Jan Hoffman write about the implications of the F.D.A.’s approval of the coronavirus vaccine for younger adolescents:

“The game changes when you go down as young as 12 years old,” said Nathan Quesnel, the superintendent of schools in East Hartford, Conn., adding, “You need to have a different level of sensitivity.”

A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor found that many parents — even some who eagerly got their own Covid shots — are reluctant to vaccinate pubescent children. Yet doing so will be critical for further reducing transmission of the virus, smoothly reopening middle and high schools and regaining some sense of national normalcy.

Vaccination for the age group is expected to begin across the country later this week. Sites are anticipating an initial surge in demand before an inevitable softening, much as happened with adults.

States, counties and school districts around the country are trying to figure out the most reassuring and expedient ways to reach younger adolescents as well as their parents, whose consent is usually required by state law. They are making plans to offer vaccines not only in schools, but also at pediatricians’ offices, day camps, parks and even beaches.

Children’s Minnesota, a Minneapolis-based hospital system where the main Covid vaccination site has offered stress balls, colored lights and images of playful dolphins projected on the ceiling, is planning to provide shots beginning later this week in at least a dozen middle schools and a Y.W.C.A.

In Columbus, Ohio, public health nurses will drive a mobile vaccination unit around neighborhoods “just like you would an ice cream truck,” said Dr. Mysheika Roberts, the city health commissioner. In Connecticut, Community Health Center, a statewide primary care provider that vaccinated the busloads of high school seniors, is aiming to reach younger adolescents by offering shots at amusement parks, beaches and camps, among other locales.

The article describes some of the vaccination challenges and concerns regarding younger adolescents:

Many parents and teenagers have been stirred by false information coursing across the internet about the shots’ impact on fertility and menstrual cycles, said Dr. Hina Talib, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, who posts on Instagram as @teenhealthdoc.

“With hormones floating around during puberty, parents ask if it’s dangerous for their child to be given a vaccine during that time,” Dr. Talib said. The questions reflect the parents’ thoughtfulness, she said, and need to be addressed respectfully.

Dr. Talib, whose patients are often Black or Latino and recent immigrants, said that many hear vaccine resistance at home. “We have to validate parental anxiety and mistrust of medicine and be very open to listening to what their experiences have been,” she said.

Garrett Bates and Precious Wright, who live in Hollywood, Fla., have tentatively decided to get themselves vaccinated, but they are holding off on their four children, ages 12 through 19, just now.

It has been a tough year: Two of the children attended school in person, two were remote. Yet, even though vaccination offers the possibility that all their children will have a more engaged, carefree life, Ms. Wright wants to see how others their age fare first.

Ms. Goodnough and Ms. Hoffman explore different approaches and messages to persuade teenagers who are reluctant to get the shot:

Not all teenagers long for the vaccine. Many hate getting shots. Others say that because young people often get milder cases of Covid, why risk a new vaccine?

Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner who oversees vaccination for Children’s Minnesota, has stark evidence that some cases in young people can be serious. Not only have more children with Covid been admitted to the hospital recently, but its intensive care unit also has Covid patients who are 13, 15, 16 and 17 years old.

The F.D.A.’s new authorization means all those patients would be eligible for the shots, she noted. “If you can prevent your child ending up in the I.C.U. with a safe vaccine, why wouldn’t you?” she said.

Mr. Quesnel, the East Hartford, Conn., superintendent, said the most powerful message for reaching older adolescents would probably appeal just as much to younger ones. Rather than focusing on the fact that the shot will protect them, he said, they seize on the idea that it will keep them from having to quarantine if they are exposed.

“They’re not so afraid of the health care dangers from Covid but the social losses that come along with it,” he said, adding that 60 percent of his district’s seniors, or about 300 students, got their first dose at a mass vaccination site run by Community Health Center on April 26. “Some of our greatest leverage right now is that social component — ‘You won’t be quarantined.’”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What is your reaction to the F.D.A.’s approval of the Covid vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds? Do you hope to get vaccinated? Why or why not? If you have already received the vaccine, what were your reasons for doing so and what was your experience like?

  • The authors write, “For some teenagers, anxious about bringing the virus home to vulnerable relatives, the vaccine represents liberation — from those worries as well as constraints on seeing friends.” Does that resonate with your experiences of the pandemic? What would getting a vaccine mean to you?

  • The article reports that many parents are “reluctant to vaccinate pubescent children.” Have you discussed the possibility of your getting vaccinated with your parents? Does your family have similar concerns or fears to those of the parents discussed in the article? Do you think you and your family are on the same page regarding vaccines?

  • Some states, counties and school districts are planning to offer vaccines not only in schools, but also at pediatricians’ offices, day camps, parks and even beaches. What do you think are the best ways to reassure and reach adolescents as well as their parents? How effective are enticements like vaccination sites with stress balls, colored lights and images of playful dolphins projected on the ceiling? What other creative ideas for outreach would you recommend to local public health and political leaders?

  • All 50 states require certain vaccines for children who attend school. Do you think schools should require students 12 and older to have the Covid vaccine to attend in person? Why or why not?

  • What do you think is the best way to get teenagers vaccinated? Imagine you were asked by local officials to design a public health campaign to persuade teenagers to get the coronavirus vaccination. What would be your approach? What would be your message or slogan? How might you address the fears and concerns of your peers and their parents? What evidence or persuasive techniques might you use? How would you communicate your message — posters, public service announcements or TikTok videos? Why?

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