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Kansas City Teachers Could Help Convince Skeptical Families To Get COVID-19 Vaccines

A child care worker at United Inner City Services wears a mask and a face shield donated by Hallmark.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
A child care worker at United Inner City Services wears a mask and a face shield donated by Hallmark.

Educators will have a role to play in convincing families to get COVID-19 vaccines once they are widely available.

“As leaders, we have to step up,” said Brett Schriewer, the principal at Northeast Middle School in Kansas City, Missouri. “I’m willing to get my shot on camera to show our community that I believe in the vaccination and feel comfortable getting it.”

Schriewer, a former science teacher with a background in microbiology, had COVID-19 in October. Although his own case was mild, Schriewer lost three family members to the virus.

“I never want to go through that again,” he said.

So as soon as teachers can get vaccinated, Schriewer plans to get in line. But he knows many of his students’ parents will be reluctant to roll up their sleeves.

“After the history of our minority communities and vaccinations, I definitely understand their concerns,” Schriewer said. “We’re just going to have to be there to support our community and really talk with them about the pros of getting the vaccine.”

Deidre Anderson is the CEO of United Inner City Services, which operates several child care centers in Kansas City’s 3rd city council district. That district, which is in the eastern part of the city, has borne the brunt of the pandemic with the most coronavirus cases and deaths.

It’s also where residents have the lowest health information literacy, Anderson said.

“I think you're going to see people that are associated with our centers respond to the vaccine very slowly, very cautiously, very skeptically,” Anderson said.

That’s because low-income communities, especially low-income Blacks and Latinos, have been experimented on in the past. They’re often uninsured and have limited access to preventative care. Anderson said it’ll be hard to convince staff members who won’t get flu shots to get a new vaccine that was fast-tracked for authorization.

“It’s not that we don't see ourselves as health educators, but the volume of time that we are spending on health education these days is quite significant,” Anderson said.

For instance, it’s been hard to explain to staff why child care centers are open when most schools in the city are closed.

Next in line

States have put educators near the front of the line for vaccines in hopes that schools will be able to reopen. Both Kansas and Missouri will vaccinate teachers, child care workers and school staff as soon as health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities have had their turns.

Kansas and Missouri are using slightly different terminology in their vaccine distribution plans. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has said teachers will get vaccinated at the beginning of Phase 2, probably in late winter.

In Missouri, teachers will get access to the vaccine around the same time, but the state is calling it Phase 1B. Missouri education officials have already said the vaccine won’t be mandatory.

That means most schools and child care centers will have unvaccinated staff as well as students. Remember, the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for kids yet, said Falgunee Parekh, the principal scientist at EpiPointe, a North Carolina-based biotech company that helps design research studies.

“We have to remember that the vaccine is not the panacea. It doesn’t really eliminate the need to use masks or social distancing or anything like that,” Parekh said during a webinar for education reporters. “You can get the vaccine and still get infected. You won’t get the disease, but you could transmit as a vaccinated person potentially.”

And that means even when COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, schools will still have to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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