In a survey ahead of the next school year, Indiana health officials want to know whether parents intend to have their children receive the COVID-19 vaccine once they’re eligible — or what concerns are stopping them.
With teens ages 16 and over already able to get vaccinated and federal approval expected as early as next week for vaccine use for children ages 12 to 15, vaccination rates among children could affect restrictions in schools this fall, the state’s top health official said.
“My goal would be, if we’ve got the bulk of high school students and junior high students vaccinated, that they hopefully go back to school without having to wear masks,” said Indiana State Health Department Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box. “They definitely don’t have to be quarantined.”
State health officials will use the survey results to tailor messages to parents encouraging vaccination and gauge interest in vaccination clinics at schools, Box said.
The voluntary, anonymous survey will be distributed to families through district, charter, and private schools. Schools, which will get the survey Friday, can choose whether to send it out. Researchers aim to finish collecting data by mid- to late June.
The survey also asks whether parents think indoor extracurriculars for middle- and high-schoolers should be limited to students who have been vaccinated.
Unlike in some other parts of the country, many schools in Indiana reopened for in-person instruction at the beginning of the school year. While schools have reported nearly 47,000 COVID-19 cases among students, teachers, and staff, school leaders and health officials believe those cases stem from activities outside of school and are not widely spreading in classrooms.
Still, positive cases in schools have sidelined many students ordered to quarantine after being exposed to the virus, even though officials say few end up falling ill.
The survey could also offer insights into the needs of different communities, such as in rural, urban, and suburban areas or among people of different races.
“From a public health perspective, it’s helpful to know: Where do we currently stand? How do parents feel? What are the information gaps?” said Nir Menachemi, the lead researcher from the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.
Elementary-aged children could soon be vaccinated, too, with Pfizer studying the use of its vaccine in younger children and expecting to seek approval for ages 2 to 11 in September.
Vaccinating school-age children could help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community, Menachemi said: “If we don’t vaccinate kids, people who are susceptible and elderly and might have a much higher likelihood of a bad bout with the disease can always get it from a child.”
Indiana’s vaccination rate ranks in the bottom fifth of states, with 28% of the state fully vaccinated, according to the New York Times’ vaccine tracker.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.