Vaccines available in the U.S. have been found to be effective against severe illness for all known variants. (Photo courtesy of Ochsner Health)

NOLA Public Schools hosted a virtual town hall for parents on Nov. 3 following the CDC’s approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 years of age and older, vastly expanding the eligibility of school-aged children. Until this week, roughly half of school-aged children were ineligible to receive the vaccine. 

City of New Orleans Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno and several other pediatric specialists in the community answered questions. Avegno said this summer’s surge hit children particularly hard, stating the Delta variant was notably more transmissible. 

“In New Orleans and Louisiana, 25 to 30 percent of the cases were in children. That’s something we hadn’t seen before,” Avegno said. “Our pediatric hospitals were full — that was something I hadn’t seen before.”

Dr. Leron Finger, with Children’s Hospital, said many of the children testing positive for COVID-19 recently were asymptomatic, and he warned that could spread the virus to family members or other classmates. 

“With all that data, it’s no longer fair to say COVID-19 is not a disease that does not affect children,” he said.

The Lens is providing answers to some frequently asked questions here, including doctors’ responses from the NOLA-PS Town Hall. The full town hall meeting can be seen here.

Who’s eligible for the vaccine?

As of Nov. 2, children ages 5 years and older are eligible for the Pfizer, two-round COVID-19 vaccination. 

Is the vaccine safe for children?

Two groups of 2,250 children ages 5-11 years old participated in the clinical vaccine trials, Dr. Eric Griggs said. 

“The conclusion as we know, is the benefits far outweigh the risks — and now we can breathe.”

Where can my child receive a vaccine?

Private providers, including Children’s Hospital, and many local pharmacies have appointments available for children and more are expected to open next week when the state receives a larger shipment of child-size doses. (Children 5-11 years old receive one-third the size of an adult dose.) You can also check for availability. 

Crescent City Schools will offer vaccines for children 5 years of age and older at Paul Habans Charter School (3501 Seine St.) from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 5. 

NOLA Public Schools will host its first Saturday clinic drive on Nov. 13. There will be several sites, one of which is Arthur Ashe Charter School (1456 Gardena Drive) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. District officials also said they will likely host vaccination events the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving break week. They are trying to plan events on non-school days so parents can be present for vaccinations with younger children.

Children’s Hospital will have vaccines for current patients Monday through Friday and nonpatients on Saturdays.

Health officials also touted vaccination as a way to cut down on children having to quarantine and miss school. 

“Fortunately, if a child is vaccinated they won’t have to quarantine if they remain asymptomatic, which is a benefit to children,” Dr. Benjamin Springgate with LSU said. “We’ll be able to reduce that educational disruption. We want to get back to normal.” 

Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the flu shot?

Dr. Griggs: “Resounding yes — they can. Last year, we didn’t see much of a flu outbreak because of our public health precautions. But yes, they can.”

Should schools continue mask mandates?

Dr. Avegno: “Yes. There are a lot of reasons. The CDC absolutely, strongly, recommends continued masking for everyone. … Schools that had strict mask mandates policies were far less likely to have outbreaks.”

Avegno said there is still a low vaccination rate among older children who were previously eligible. “They’re still not protected.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...