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Vaccine brings optimism that the fall could bring a mostly normal school year

UPDATED: Wed., May 5, 2021

Vaccines are expected to receive FDA emergency use approval soon for children, raising hopes that students can return to a normal school experience next school year.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Vaccines are expected to receive FDA emergency use approval soon for children, raising hopes that students can return to a normal school experience next school year. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

One day after the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to authorize the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in adolescents, parents and school districts are looking ahead cautiously to a brighter future.

With summer not far away, expansion of vaccinations to children 12 to 15 years old would ease the worries of parents during warm-weather activities.

Looking further ahead, the news raises hopes for a back-to-normal school experience.

Ben Small, superintendent of the Central Valley School District, said Tuesday that the vaccinations “add one more layer to the overall health and safety of our Central Valley families and community.”

“Parental permission is required and we certainly encourage families to consult with their health care provider for their individual needs, but we would encourage vaccination as this will help enable us to return to school as normal as possible this fall,” Small said in a statement.

Clearance for expanded use of the Pfizer vaccine could come later this week. If it is granted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory panel is likely to meet immediately to review the clinical trial data and make recommendations for the vaccine’s use in adolescents.

“Tools continue to be added to our COVID protocols, like recently adding testing abilities at school, and now having this added layer of vaccination for secondary students,” Small said. “Through these tools, we will be able to continue moving forward together as a community.”

At Spokane Public Schools, Superintendent Adam Swinyard said that “at this point things are difficult to ascertain” what effect the wider vaccine distribution will have down the road.

“But of course we’re optimistic,” said Swinyard, who added that conversations are happening at the state level regarding what school will look like in the fall.

Locally, optimism was tempered by a COVID-19 resurgence at Cheney and West Valley high schools, the latter being forced to go back to remote learning-only.

According to district web sites posted Tuesday, Cheney High School reported 16 cases in the last 14 days, while West Valley had 24 positive cases and 238 people in quarantine.

The likelihood of those outbreaks might be lessened by increased vaccination.

On Tuesday, Pfizer announced plans to seek emergency use authorization for its vaccine for children ages 2 to 11 in September, the company said in a release.

“We expect to have definitive readouts and submit for an EUA for two cohorts, including children age 2 to 5 years of age and 5 to 11 years of age, in September,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said, adding that the readout and submission for children 6 months to 2 years is expected in the fourth quarter of 2021.

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