With students returning to the classroom in person Sept. 7, health officials are encouraging students age 12 and older to get vaccinated.

The Minnesota Department of Education and Department of Health launched the “Vax to School” campaign earlier this month. Both departments are encouraging schools to host vaccination clinics to break down barriers to access to the COVID-19 vaccine and encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.

Anyone under age 18 has to have parental or guardian permission to get vaccinated.

“We want to make sure that kids get back to school,” Deputy Education Commissioner Stephanie Burrage said. “They deserve to get back to school, learn and be connected with other students. So this campaign is really to make sure that we can get our kids back safely.”

St. Louis County Public Health nurse and school liaison Aubrie Hoover said there is a proven way to get kids back to school: vaccinations.

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“We want to remain in person as much as possible, but there are concerns with increased case rates and the delta variant,” Hoover said.

As of Monday, 50% of 12- to 15-year-olds in Minnesota have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Those 16- to 17-year-olds are a bit higher at 57% with at least one dose.

Essentia Health registered nurse Sara Miller prepares COVID-19 vaccine at an East High School clinic Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. 
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Essentia Health registered nurse Sara Miller prepares COVID-19 vaccine at an East High School clinic Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Those 12-15 years old with at least one dose in the Northland as of Monday are:

  • 30% in Aitkin County.

  • 49% in Carlton County.

  • 49% in Cook County.

  • 32% in Itasca County.

  • 26% in Koochiching County.

  • 57% in Lake County.

  • 47% in St. Louis County.

Those 16-17 years old with at least one dose in the Northland as of Monday are:

  • 36% in Aitkin County.

  • 53% in Carlton County.

  • 51% in Cook County.

  • 35% in Itasca County.

  • 26% in Koochiching County.

  • 51% in Lake County.

  • 57% in St. Louis County.

Carlton County Public Health and Human Services and St. Louis County Public Health are partnering with schools to host vaccination clinics. Barnum and Wrenshall school districts are holding vaccination clinics during their open houses Wednesday. St. Luke’s will be hosting a vaccination clinic at Proctor High School on Thursday.

“It breaks down barriers for access for students and families because they're already going to their open house to get their school information for the fall, so they can also get vaccinated right then and there, too,” said Ali Bachinski, emergency preparedness coordinator for Carlton County Public Health and Human Services.

Bachinski said last year's prevention strategies were very new to everyone, especially kids, but going into this year, they feel more prepared.

“Schools learned a lot last year in how we can do infection prevention and control,” she said. “We didn’t have a lot of transmissions actually within the schools, so what we found was a lot of the transmission was happening outside the school and they would come to school either asymptomatic or prior to showing symptoms.”

As for masks, Baschinski said Carlton County Public Health and Human Services aligns their recommendations around masks in schools with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is recommending masks be worn in schools regardless of vaccination status.

Kaitlynn Linnell, right, of Essentia Health, helps prepare people to receive COVID-19 vaccine at East High School on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. 
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Kaitlynn Linnell, right, of Essentia Health, helps prepare people to receive COVID-19 vaccine at East High School on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Benefits of being vaccinated

There are many benefits to getting vaccinated, Hoover said. A big benefit to students is if they are a close contact of a positive case and are vaccinated, they don’t have to quarantine. Bachinski said it is recommended that if a vaccinated student or staff member is a close contact that they get a COVID-19 test three to five days after exposure.

Baschinski acknowledged that breakthrough cases occur, but very rarely. She said that 0.02% of all fully vaccinated individuals are being infected.

“That is a very, very small amount of people and then the chances for severe illness and death is even a fraction of that percentage,” Bachinski said.

Hoover said in St. Louis County they are seeing breakthrough cases mostly in those that work closely with COVID-19 patients.

Right now the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for those under age 18. According to Pfizer Global Media Relations Senior Associate Keanna Ghazvini, they are expected to have the safety and immunogenicity data that could potentially support an emergency use authorization for use in children ages 5-11 by the end of September with the full dataset from the students expected by the end of 2021. The full dataset is required to support licensure in this age group.

“We share the urgency to gather the data that could help support the decision by regulatory authorities to make the vaccine available to school-aged children as early as possible for the upcoming school year,” Ghazvini said in an email to the News Tribune.

Similar datasets will be submitted shortly thereafter to support emergency-use authorization in children 6 months to 5 years old, Ghazvini said.