White House Makes Back-to-School Push for Student Vaccinations

With vaccination rates lagging among young people, the administration wants to incorporate vaccination into school sports physicals and is asking schools to host vaccine clinics.

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg

WASHINGTON — The White House, worried that coronavirus vaccination rates among young people are lagging as the school year approaches, is enlisting pediatricians to incorporate vaccination into back-to-school sports physicals and encouraging schools to host their own vaccination clinics as part of a new push to get students their shots.

The initiative, announced on Thursday by Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona, is part of a broader “return to school road map” aimed at getting students back to in-person learning this fall. School officials around the country are worried that a surge in coronavirus cases, fueled by the highly infectious Delta variant, will threaten the return.

Roughly 90 percent of the country’s educators are vaccinated, Dr. Cardona said during an appearance in the White House briefing room, and the administration sees vaccinating students as essential to keeping schools open. But experts and school superintendents said in interviews that increasing vaccination rates among students may be a slow and uphill battle.

“When you look at a map of the United States and you see those states that have low vaccination rates and high infection rates, those are the areas where superintendents are having problems in getting kids vaccinated,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA: The School Superintendents Association, which represents about 13,000 superintendents around the country.

Young people ages 12 and older have been eligible for vaccination since May, when the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Though the nation has met President Biden’s goal of having at least 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated, only 40.7 percent of 12- to 15-year-olds and 51 percent of 16- to 17- year olds have received at least one dose, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week the C.D.C. said it wanted in-person schooling to resume across the country, and updated its mask guidance to call for universal mask use by students, staff members and visitors in schools, regardless of their vaccination status or the rate of community transmission of the virus.

Dr. Cardona issued a pointed message to Republican governors, including Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, about the steps they have taken to prevent local officials from requiring face coverings.

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