Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks at City Hall on April 13. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — City health officials won’t consider requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated against coronavirus until the federal government fully authorizes doses for young kids, the city’s top doctor said Wednesday.

The federal government is expected to soon give emergency approval to COVID-19 vaccines for kids 5-11, including more than 210,000 kids in Chicago. They could start getting vaccinated as soon as next week.

Vaccine requirements for infectious diseases have long been “critical” in protecting students’ health, Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner, said at an event with reporters Wednesday.

But a coronavirus vaccine mandate “certainly” won’t come “any time soon,” Arwady said, as the federal government is only considering an emergency authorization for kids’ doses at this time.

The Pfizer vaccine can be given to kids 12 and up, as it’s received emergency approval. Other vaccine makers are trying to get their shots approved for younger people, as well.

It can take months for federal officials to give the shots full approval: The Pfizer vaccine was fully authorized for people 16 and older in August, eight months after it received emergency approval.

Arwady said vaccine requirements for adults in workplaces are appropriate, but those “only started to be talked about in a serious way once there had been many months … of that real-world experience [and] lots of opportunities to get questions answered.”

With a mandate in schools, “I would worry about seeing more children of color in Chicago not being able to attend school in person, [which] can be a real problem,” Arwady said. “Schools are offering academic but also social-emotional and other types of support. I want to make sure that children can stay in school in as safe an environment as possible.”

Lagging coronavirus vaccine rates among Black and Latino Chicagoans will “most likely” be reflected among young children of color as they become eligible for doses, Arwady said.

Forty-four percent of Black Chicagoans 12 and older were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, the only racial or ethnic group in the city with less than half of its members vaccinated.

About 53 percent of Latino residents, 62.5 percent of white residents and 66 percent of Asian residents were fully vaccinated.

“The biggest predictor of whether a child will be vaccinated is whether their parents or guardians are vaccinated,” Arwady said. “Knowing that we are seeing lagging numbers among Black and Latinx older Chicagoans, I would also expect to probably see that among younger Chicagoans.”

Children are less likely to become seriously ill when infected with coronavirus. But vaccinating kids is important — particularly in Black and Latino communities — as “they are very able to transmit it within those families and those unvaccinated networks,” Arwady said.

Doses will also help “keep kids in school,” as people can avoid quarantine after an exposure if they’re vaccinated and aren’t experiencing symptoms, Arwady said.

Vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective at protecting children from coronavirus, Arwady said. The doses used for children are smaller than those for adults, and they’re administered with smaller needles.

Kids will be able to get vaccinated against coronavirus for free and can get their shots at the same time they get other vaccinations.

The city plans to offer vaccines to families in a variety of ways, including distributing doses to doctor’s offices and clinics. Kids will not need insurance, an ID or a doctor’s order to get their doses.

Chicago Public Schools will educate kids and families about getting young ones vaccinated, and the district will set up vaccination sites.

People 12 and older already are eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

How Kids Can Get Vaccinated:

Family doctor/health care provider

Families should first contact their family doctor or pediatrician’s office to get their child vaccinated, Arwady said.

“We would love them to go their regular provider,” Arwady said. “This should really be your first check.”

Chicago Public Schools

The school district plans to set up regional vaccination sites:

  • Theodore Roosevelt High School, 3436 W. Wilson Ave.
  • Michele Clark High School, 5101 W. Harrison St.
  • Richards Career Academy, 5030 S. Bishop St.
  • Chicago Vocational Career Academy, 2100 E. 87th St.

It will also set up mobile vaccination units and school-based health centers.

More information is available online.

Local pharmacies

Pharmacies will offer pediatric vaccinations. They have different registration requirements.

  • Walgreens: Register online or call your local Walgreens or 1-800-WALGREENS (1-800-925-4733).
  • CVS: Register online or call your local CVS or 1-800-679-9691.
  • Mariano’s: Register online.
  • Walmart: Call 833-886-0023, Option 1.
  • Chicago Costco Pharmacies: Register online for an appointment or call a pharmacy directly.

Community and health department events

The city’s health department and other agencies will host vaccination events. Details will be available online.

You can also check the city’s vaccination event calendar online.

At-home vaccinations

The city isn’t offering at-home vaccination appointments to kids in the 5-11 age group for now, but it expects to do so by mid-November, Arwady said. But, in the meantime, the health department will vaccinate eligible children during at-home appointments for other people.

You can make an appointment online or by calling 312-746-4835.

Children’s hospitals

Various children’s hospitals will host vaccine events. Check their websites for more information.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers.

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