School vaccine campaigns targeting students face blowback

File Image. Photo Date: May 17, 2021. Credit: U.S. Navy / Deidre Smith. License Link.

Across the U.S., vaccine-hesitant parents are struggling with vaccine-seeking teenagers set on getting their shots.

Posted: Sep 13, 2021 4:33 PM

Fearing his parents wouldn’t approve of his decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine but needing their signature, Andrew signed up for the appointment in secret, and then sprang it on them at the last minute.

They said no. Andrew cursed at his mother and father and called them idiots. Andrew’s dad grabbed him by the shirt collar.

“He said, ‘You’re not getting this damn vaccine; you need to lower your voice. Watch your tone when you talk to me.’ It was, it was the first time my dad had ever done something like that — he grabbed my shirt and yelled in my face,” said Andrew, a 17-year-old student in Hoover, Alabama.

In most states, minors need the consent of their parents in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Navigating family politics in cases of differing views has been a challenge for students and organizers of outreach campaigns, who have faced blowback for directly targeting young people.

President Joe Biden has encouraged every school district to promote vaccines, including with on-site clinics, to protect students as they return to school amid a resurgence of the coronavirus. But several governments and school districts have taken more neutral stances in areas where skepticism of the vaccine remains prevalent.

In Tennessee, the health department ended vaccination events and outreach aimed at minors following criticism of advertisements that featured children and included slogans like “Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot.” Republican lawmakers accused the health department of “ peer pressuring ” children to get the vaccine and criticized a top official who sent a memo to vaccine providers explaining that they could legally waive parental consent under Tennessee law.

Nationwide, half of people ages 12-17 have been vaccinated. That age group has been eligible for the Pfizer vaccine since May on an emergency use authorization. Trials are underway for younger children.

Full approval for the drug was granted by federal safety regulators recently for people 16 and older. Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District school board voted to mandate vaccines for students 12 and older.

In Molalla, Oregon, the mayor pressured a high school to cancel a vaccine drive on campus this semester, citing a $50 gift card incentive he equated with bribery. Many who called for an end to the vaccine drive expressed opposition to the vaccines, although Mayor Scott Keyser said he’s not against them.

Misinformation surrounding in-school vaccination efforts has also eroded trust between parents and school districts across the country.

School officials in Kettering, Ohio, received death threats in August after TikTok videos baselessly claimed the suburban Dayton district was vaccinating children without parental consent.

There was no truth to the claims — they came out before the school year began, and spring vaccine clinics required parents to be present — but they caused “huge hysteria” in the community nonetheless, according to Kettering City Schools superintendent Scott Inskeep.

“Our families really are struggling with both information and disinformation,” Inskeep said. “It’s like a match being put to a gasoline fire. When it starts it’s hard to put out.”

In a total of eight states, all in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest, providers can waive parental consent requirements — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama, according to a May review by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In some areas, there have been efforts to make it easier for kids to get vaccinated.

State legislators in New York and New Jersey introduced laws that would allow teens to consent to vaccines without parental consent, but they were never passed. D.C. passed its law and is being sued by an anti-vaccine group. In New Mexico, health officials remade consent forms so that parents could sign them and send them with their kids, instead of having to show up in person.

Elsewhere, some officials have tried to give parents more say over vaccinations for teenagers.

In May, officials in two Oregon counties barred health officials from giving vaccines to kids without parental consent. Yamhill County Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer and the mother of three teenagers defended the move saying, “Our children are not the property of the State of Oregon.”

But the counties backed down after state health officials issued a legal opinion affirming consent rights for children 15 and older. Berschauer continues to advocate against vaccine incentives for teens, calling the programs “peer pressure.”

On paper, Alabama’s law is one of the more liberal, allowing minors like Andrew to get the vaccine on their own. In practice, that’s nearly impossible. The Alabama Department of Public Health requires parental consent as a matter of policy, and so do major pharmacies.

The day after the argument with his parents, Andrew’s father took him to the pharmacy and signed, without saying a word. Andrew’s father confirmed his son's account but declined to be interviewed. Andrew asked that his last name not be used out of fear of further upsetting his parents.

Pediatricians in some cases try to facilitate conversations between children and parents and promote the COVID-19 vaccine. But it doesn't always work, even with parents who have accepted their pediatrician's recommendation on other vaccines, including for HPV and the flu.

“They look at me like I’m suggesting that they feed their childhood poison when I’m recommending a COVID vaccine,” said doctor Katrina Skinner, President of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Andrew's Hoover High School does not promote COVID-19 vaccinations on its website or social media channels, and there’s no indication the school will host a vaccine clinic. School officials did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

Alabama state health officials have been encouraging the vaccines among young people with a contest on the social media app TikTok that awarded $250 for the best video promoting COVID-19 vaccinations.

One of Andrew's schoolmates, Rotimi Kukoyi, 17, was one of four contest winners. He shared the video with his 18,000 followers, built over two years by making jokes.

“I showed the CDC explaining how the vaccine is safe, and how it’s effective, and then I linked resources for people to sign up to get the vaccine,” Rotimi said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 479326

Reported Deaths: 9353
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32779484
Hinds30924582
DeSoto30319353
Jackson23542341
Rankin21235366
Lee14803219
Madison14120271
Jones13327223
Forrest13078236
Lauderdale11501303
Lowndes10377176
Lamar10163130
Pearl River9008217
Lafayette8193137
Hancock7404111
Oktibbeha6909122
Washington6900150
Monroe6459159
Neshoba6441201
Warren6387163
Pontotoc623093
Panola6203125
Bolivar6072144
Marshall6068121
Union571386
Pike5574135
Alcorn533289
Lincoln5283131
George466072
Scott454796
Leflore4444140
Prentiss443377
Tippah442180
Itawamba441599
Adams4376116
Tate4327101
Simpson4313112
Wayne430766
Copiah429587
Yazoo419686
Covington413292
Sunflower4123104
Marion4073104
Leake395486
Coahoma391098
Newton367274
Grenada3543104
Stone350359
Tishomingo333288
Attala324286
Jasper313162
Winston303091
Clay294173
Chickasaw286265
Clarke279890
Calhoun263940
Holmes261387
Smith248048
Yalobusha219647
Tallahatchie217550
Walthall209958
Greene206845
Lawrence205732
Perry198553
Amite197651
Webster195042
Noxubee177739
Montgomery171654
Jefferson Davis167442
Carroll161437
Tunica150834
Benton141533
Kemper138039
Claiborne126134
Choctaw126026
Humphreys125937
Franklin116328
Quitman103426
Wilkinson101536
Jefferson87333
Sharkey62320
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 778549

Reported Deaths: 13665
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1105871747
Mobile704651206
Madison49152610
Baldwin35946479
Shelby35796302
Tuscaloosa33410532
Montgomery32906672
Lee22231216
Calhoun20791397
Morgan19605326
Etowah18837449
Marshall17465272
Houston16452368
St. Clair15233293
Limestone14376182
Cullman14348246
Elmore14241256
Lauderdale13298278
Talladega12699230
DeKalb12036233
Walker10430323
Autauga9568133
Blount9555152
Jackson9235146
Coffee8728169
Colbert8426179
Dale8410170
Escambia6526114
Tallapoosa6501172
Covington6396163
Chilton6293141
Russell598555
Franklin5719100
Chambers5315133
Marion4734115
Dallas4665182
Clarke457076
Pike456294
Geneva4315116
Winston417192
Lawrence4086108
Bibb401680
Barbour341968
Marengo323183
Butler314988
Monroe314652
Pickens300470
Randolph299955
Henry298356
Hale289383
Cherokee284652
Fayette275672
Washington244848
Crenshaw235168
Clay225163
Macon217657
Cleburne217149
Lamar192140
Conecuh179646
Lowndes170158
Coosa166432
Wilcox155736
Bullock147742
Perry136036
Sumter124136
Greene120142
Choctaw72826
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