Vaccine access for CPS students now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination severely restricted in South Side communities – Community News
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Vaccine access for CPS students now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination severely restricted in South Side communities

Pullman, South Shore, Woodlawn and Morgan Park are among Chicago’s South Side communities with no vaccine clinics within a mile of schools for children ages 5-11.

CHICAGO, November 12, 2021 — While kids ages 5-11 can now get COVID-19 vaccinations this week in more than 1,000 New York City public schools, and local school districts such as Elgin School District U-46 move to place vaccine clinics in each of its public schools, a survey of results from the national vaccines.gov/search portal recommended to families by Chicago Public Schools finds no access to suppliers of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5-11-year-olds within a mile in many Chicago communities.

CPS encourages parents to use vaccins.gov/search to find vaccine clinics, but searching by zip code for South Side communities such as Pullman, South Shore, Woodlawn, and Morgan Park returns a “no results found” message for providers of vaccines. the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the only vaccine approved for children ages 5-11 by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

In comparison, a search of the zip codes for Lincoln Park and adjacent communities shows nine different vaccine providers.

“CPS families shouldn’t have to travel miles or cross major neighborhood boundaries to get their children vaccinated,” said CTU president Jesse Sharkey. “A day of awareness is fine, but a real effort is for the mayor and the CPS to show continued commitment, prioritize neighborhoods with limited access and low vaccination rates for outreach and engagement, and put a vaccination site in every school community.”

While CPS has also referred parents to clinics run by the Chicago Department of Public Health, those sites won’t be open until tomorrow, Nov. 13 — one day for children as young as five. after the district’s citywide school closure for “Vaccine Awareness Day.” Vaccination at home for children from the age of five does not start until November 15.

Fewer than 1,000 of all eligible students ages 12-17 — just 34 a week — have been vaccinated at each of the district’s four regional vaccination sites (another CPS referral), as the district revealed last week that just 47 percent of all eligible students aged 12-17 have been vaccinated.

Outside of the four regional vaccination sites, school-based vaccination is available in only 17 other CPS buildings, which is only 3 percent of all district schools. Also, few families benefit from vaccines offered at CPS mobile events, of which only three are for the entire South Side.

Overall, with the largest CPS student population now eligible for vaccination, it remains difficult for families in many neighborhoods to find easy, walkable, and walk-in access to vaccines.

There are dozens of elementary schools on the south side in zip codes 60608, 60628, 60636, 60637, 60643, and 60653—with mostly black students—that are located in neighborhoods with no easy access to vaccine clinics. Racial disparities seen in COVID hospitalizations in children ages 5-11 are nearly the same as in adults, according to the CDC, so Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS urgently need to care for young children and their parents and guardians, a comprehensive plan that includes communication, includes transportation and education around the importance of vaccines for the district’s youngest students.

Instead, black CPS families with the greatest barriers to access to vaccines and medical care are left to their own devices in making appointments, only highlighting existing inequalities between Chicago’s communities.

“CPS has the ability to put a lot more effort into vaccinating children than it has done to date, and that responsibility rests entirely with the mayor,” President Sharkey said. “COVID cases are on the rise, our schools remain filthy and understaffed, and we can’t add to that a single dysfunction of the mayor and her CPS leaders getting our youngest students vaccinated.”

“We’ve seen what that dysfunction looks like with countless missed deadlines for COVID testing to start the year,” added Sharkey. “As we move into the colder months and everyone is moving in, the stakes are just too high for even more failures.”

In addition to many students who do not have a vaccine clinic within a mile of their school in the area, some hospitals also do not yet have the ability to offer vaccines to children ages 5-11. For example, South Shore Hospital only has appointments for Chicago residents ages 12 and older. Advocate Trinity Hospital only gives vaccinations to its own patients between the ages of 5 and 11.

There are proven models for broad-based vaccinations and targeted and immediate support to families in both Los Angeles and New Jersey, where vaccine coverage has doubled in two months. This should serve as a model for districts across the country — including CPS — to provide access to students and families who need it most.

The teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians who work in CPS schools could be powerful messengers in the kind of vaccination outreach that is proving effective elsewhere, but the mayor and CPS leadership have shown very little interest in partnering with educators to make such an effort.

The Union has been clear that vaccination for all eligible persons is vital to contain the pandemic, and has fought for regional vaccination sites for educators and staff since January, then pushed for sites to be opened to families and communities. Hundreds registered today for a vaccination event at the CTU Center, 1901 W. Carroll Ave., from noon to 3 p.m. The school communities of Lincoln Elementary, Sabin Elementary, and National Teachers Academy have also hosted their own vaccination events.

The Union continues to negotiate with the District on the following requirements:

  • Robust weekly COVID testing of all students and staff.
  • Fast contact tracing based on best practices.
  • A district wide vaccination program to support all school communities.
  • Additional school staff, including nurses, substitute teachers and social workers, to address staff shortages during a pandemic also marred by the trauma of gun violence.
  • A science-based metric to indicate when the number of positive COVID-19 cases in schools is impacting students’ ability to learn safely face-to-face.

The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support staff working in Chicago Public Schools, and by extension the nearly 400,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third largest local teachers in the United States. For more information, visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.