For weeks, the school principal had begged Kemika Cosey: Would she please allow her children, ages 7 and 11, to get Covid shots?
Ms. Cosey remained stuck. A hard no.
But Mr. Kip - Brigham Kiplinger, principal at Garrison Elementary School in Washington, DC - knocked the "no's" away.
Ever since the federal government approved the coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 nearly three months ago, Mr. Kip has been calling school parents, texting, laughing and cuddling daily. Acting as a vaccine advocate - a job usually performed by doctors and public health officials - has become central to his role as a teacher. "The vaccine is the most important thing happening this year to keep children in school," Mr Kiplinger said.
Mainly through Mr. Kiplinger’s abilities as a parent-wax whisperer, Garrison Elementary has turned into a public health anomaly: 80 percent of the 250 Garrison Wildcats in grade kindergarten to fifth grade now have at least one shot, he said.
But as the Omicron variant has stormed through U.S. classrooms and sent students home and in some cases to the hospital, the vaccination rate for U.S. 28 million children in the age group of 5-11 is still lower than health experts had done. feared. According to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation based on federal data, only 18.8 percent are now fully vaccinated, and only 28.1 percent have received one dose.
The differences in rates between states are sharp. In Vermont, the proportion of children who are fully vaccinated is 52 percent; in Mississippi it is 6 per cent.
"It's going to be a long struggle at this point to get the kids vaccinated," said Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president at Kaiser, which specializes in global health policy. She says it will require unwavering persistence like Mr. Kiplinger, whom she knows firsthand because her child goes to his school. "It's hard, hard work to reach the parents."
After the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was approved for younger children in late October, the increase in demand outside the gate lasted for a few weeks. It peaked just before Thanksgiving, then dropped sharply and has since stalled. It now hovers at 50,000 to 75,000 new doses a day.
"I was amazed at how quickly the interest in the vaccine for children disappeared," said Dr. Kates. "Even parents who had been vaccinated themselves were more careful about getting their children vaccinated."
Public health officials say it is crucial to persuade parents to get their younger children vaccinated, not only to maintain personal education, but also to curb the pandemic in general. With Adult Vaccination Reaching a Ceiling - 74 percent of Americans 18 years and older are now fully vaccinated, and most of those who are not seemingly increasingly immobile - unvaccinated elementary school children remain a major, turbulent source of proliferation. When traveling to and from school by bus, crossing schools, bathrooms, classrooms, and gyms, they can subconsciously act as viral vectors countless times a day.
Parents give many reasons for their hesitation. And with their innate protective prudence on behalf of their children, they are susceptible to widespread misinformation. For many working parents, the obstacle is logistical rather than philosophical, as they struggle to find time to get their children to the clinic, doctor's office, or pharmacy to get a vaccine.
In some communities where adults' resistance to vaccines is strong, local health departments and schools do not promote shots to children strongly for fear of backlash. Pharmacies may not even bother to stock child-sized doses.
Despite the proliferation of Covid-overcrowded hospitals, sick children and the highly contagious aspect of Omicron, many parents still affected by last year's increases, which were generally not as severe for children as adults, do not believe that the virus is dangerous enough to justify risking their child's health on a new vaccine.
Health communication experts further blame this perception of the early confused message about Omicron, which was originally described as "mild", but also as a variant that could penetrate a vaccine's protection.
Many parents interpreted these messages as meaning that the shots served no purpose. In fact, the vaccines have been shown to protect strongly against serious illness and death, although they are not as effective at preventing Omicron infections as with other variants.
And the number of cases of children where Covid has been diagnosed only continues to rise, as a report last week from the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes. Dr. Moira Szilagyi, President of the Academy, pushed for higher vaccination rates, saying: "After almost two years with this pandemic, we know that this disease has not always been mild in children, and we have seen some children suffer from serious illness., Both on short term and long term. ”
Recognizing that it is urgent, supporters of Covid shots are doubling their efforts to convince parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics has put together speech points for pediatricians and parents. Kaiser has its own parent-friendly vaccine information page. Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse who is the incoming president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, holds an exhaustive speech plan and answers questions about Covid vaccine from parents, teens, pediatricians and radio talk show hosts.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has just released a free online training course to help provide pro-vaccine parents with language and ways to reach out to their resilient friends. It provides vaccine facts, resources and techniques to engage them.
One tip is to share personal stories about Covid, to anchor the purpose of the vaccine in the real world. Another is to normalize Covid vaccination by proudly telling friends and family when children get Covid shots.
Coronavirus pandemic: important things to know
Rupali Limaye, an associate scientist at Bloomberg who studies vaccine releases and developed the course, said giving parents tools to persuade others about Covid shots could improve enrollment rates, especially now that some hesitant parents reject pediatrician advice. Peer "vaccine ambassadors," as she calls them, have more time and exercise less power dynamics than ravaged doctors. "This is a super-sensitive topic for many people," added Dr. Limaye.
Since November, Mr. Kiplinger, who has been the garrison's principal for five years, worked through a daily call list of parents. He says he understands their concern because he underwent the same mental gymnastics before deciding to get his two young sons vaccinated.
He badgers in every way he can: At lunchtime, he asks students to raise their hand if they have been given a Covid shot, welcomes them, and urges the others to keep urging their people.
"I'm really sore in the ass," he admitted. "I love harassing them lovingly."
Covid has been particularly brutal towards black and Hispanic families whose children make up about 80 percent of the school's population. Sir. Kiplinger understands that as a white man he has limited authority to ask these parents to trust vaccines, and therefore he has quarreled with black pediatricians about providing medical information as well as endorsements.
"Given the history of understandable medical mistrust in color societies, hesitation is natural and understandable," he said. "But to keep our feral cats safe and in school, we need to penetrate the natural fear of the new and the unknown and take all the precautions we can."
Many parents told him they could not leave work to take their children with them to be shot. So Mr. Kiplinger coordinated with a city program to hold Covid vaccine clinics in the school cafeteria during the caring hours from 3:30 to 7:00 p.m. stretch their arms out.
Ms. Cosey, the Garrison parent who had resisted Mr Kiplinger's prayers for years, was concerned that the vaccine could exacerbate her son's many allergies. "It took me a little minute to do a lot more research," she said.
Earlier this month, she took both children to a school clinic. Yes, her pediatrician had encouraged her, but she also gives credit to Mr Kiplinger. She laughed. Her fifth grade has been in Garrison since kindergarten: "Mr. Kip is more like a family, so when I say he gnawed, it's a good kiss!"
She said that at the school clinic: “Mr. Kip took a million pictures! He was just super excited that I decided to come in. ”
Mr. Kiplinger is determined to convert the remaining vaccine teams into Garrison. At the latest vaccine clinic, he was standing next to her when a mother quarreled over the phone with her husband. "The mother and her four feral cats wanted the shots, but for the father it was a 'no'. It broke my heart," he said.
"But we have another clinic on the way soon," he added, "and I hope he might get around."