Word in Black / Chan  Zuckerberg Initiative

With positive COVID-19 cases on the rise and Thanksgiving right around the corner, St. Louis area leaders are taking action to protect those who may be at risk: St. Louis’ children.

County Executive Dr. Sam Page addressed the community about the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases on Monday.

“As of today, we’re averaging 189 new cases per day, which is a 30% increase in cases over the previous week,” Page said at the virtual and in-person briefing. This is the first major increase in local COVID-19 cases in months.

According to Page, this is “likely the beginning of a winter surge.” The age group experiencing the biggest spike in cases is children ages five to 14. This age group was approved for a child-sized dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Oct. 29. 

In response to the rising pediatric case numbers, both the city and the county are offering monetary incentives for childrens’ vaccinations, and multiple school districts are holding in-house clinics in order to meet children and families where they are. 

Vaccines in the schools

More than 400 children have signed-up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through the Ritenour School District, which has partnered with SSM Health to provide its fifth vaccine clinic.

SSM Health Medical Group and Ritenour School District announced they will host additional COVID-19 vaccination clinics. 

“For the first vaccine clinic, we reached out to different districts to see if we could get into the schools where everyone can come if they don’t want to go to a hospital,” Kristina Bryowsky, director of pharmacy services at SSM Health DePaul Hospital, said. 

This clinic follows a successful series of vaccination events that SSM Health and Ritenour School District hosted in the summer. Over the course of six dates between May and August, more than 800 people received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. St. Louis Public Schools also began offering vaccinations this past week, starting with a clinic at Gateway Middle School, and will continue to do so throughout the coming months. At school-based clinics, adults will also be welcome to begin the vaccination process or get booster shots. 

“We want to meet people where they are” 

Along with school districts, neighborhood health centers are a crucial part of the fight against COVID-19 in children. Affinia Health care began offering the kid-sized dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during the second week of November. 

On Nov. 10, six-year-old Alana became one of the first children to receive the vaccination there—a huge relief to her mother, Janice McRoberts. The whole family, McRoberts said, suffered through COVID-19 this past summer, and lost their grandmother to the virus a year prior. 

“It was a lot, trying to take care of everybody, and we didn’t want to go through that again…so we just want to make sure we’re following all the recommended CDC guidance and protocols for our safety and our community’s safety as well,” she said.

At a press conference outside of Affinia Healthcare, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said the city’s pediatric vaccine campaign looks “a little different” from previous attempts to get adults vaccinated.

“We want to meet people where they are,” she said. “We have to meet children in places where they feel comfortable, and federally qualified health centers like Affinia are trusted community partners.”

Bryowsky of SSM Health also recognized the importance of meeting children and families where they are.  “What we found was that people tend to trust people in their own community, so we were able to come in and they trusted us to get the vaccine and I think it’s the same with the children,” Bryowsky said. 

At Affinia, the response to the pediatric vaccination rollout has been “very positive,” according to Yvonne Buhlinger, the health center’s Vice President of Development and Community Relations. 

Affinia is offering daily walk-in vaccination hours Tuesday through Friday starting this week and offering the COVID-19 and flu vaccinations in conjunction with other services for patients who previously booked appointments.

“Those who are very interested in the vaccine are taking initiative, calling, making appointments, or just walking in,” Buhlinger said. “It’s very positive…from our patients and the community overall. We’re proud of that…I think that also says that people trust us, trust our staff, and know that we’re available and accessible in the community, where people live.”

Schedules of upcoming free pediatric vaccine clinics are available on the St. Louis City government website, and at revivestl.com/get-your-vaccine.

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