By Juanita I.C. Traughber, Communications Director
The most critical public health action to end the pandemic remains increasing vaccination coverage, and USN faculty and families have shown promising dedication to achieving that end. Some 97.8% of students in Grades 7-12 and 88% of faculty & staff were fully inoculated against COVID-19 by the end of October.
Vaccines minimize breakthrough cases, case severity, and transmission. The threshold in school studies looks at 90% percent vaccination as the ideal in terms of managing risk, said USN parent Loren Lipworth-Elliot, Sc.D., Associate Director of Epidemiology & Research Professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“We feel USN is in a remarkable and unique position to have had such a high vaccination rate in our eligible students early this fall,” said Health Team Co-Director Margee Brennan, M.D. “And we are optimistic because the uptake is already starting in Lower School in just one week. We have such great resources to answer parents’ concerns about the vaccination and COVID-19.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 on Friday, Oct. 29. The CDC authorized its use the following Monday.
Since then, several Lower School students have received their first dose, Brennan said.
The Health Team has also hosted virtual meetings for faculty and staff with medical experts in the USN community. Since July 2020, a group of parent volunteers working in health care have met with the USN administrators each Friday afternoon to review the latest public health guidance & data and discuss best practices of mitigation in schools.
School administrators and medical professionals strongly encourage the USN school community to become vaccinated. Families can submit their student’s vaccination card to the Health Team via Magnus Health and employees to Human Resources through Paycom.
Mason ’32 participated in a vaccine trial for children through his pediatrician’s referral to Clinical Research Associates.
“In his mind, he was feeling the pressure of wearing masks and the possibility of not being able to go to school, and he was eager for the chance to get vaccinated early,” said USN parent Amy Sullivan. The Sullivan family learned last week he received the vaccine and not a placebo.
“Mason was so excited and literally cheering and proud of it. It was a big relief to us to learn that he had already been vaccinated,” she added. “And he understands it means there are more normal things we can get back to doing — like we have not been to the movie theater in two years.”
Cori Laemmel, parent of Lucky ’33, another trial participant, said her family celebrated with “an epic bowling night” after feeling relief and pride of being fully vaccinated.
“I would say talk to the people who you trust with your children’s medical care,” she said. “We talked to our pediatrician and friends who work in children’s medicine. There was no hesitation from the people who really know what they are talking about and have the education and experience to inform.”
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a policy for faculty & staff last month that makes vaccination a requirement with reasonable accommodations for those with religious and medical exemptions. This policy is based upon guidance provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before enacting the COVID-19 vaccination employment policy, 88% of faculty and staff were voluntarily vaccinated. It increased to 95% by Friday, Nov. 19. USN expects to employ 311 full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary workers over the course of the 2021-2022 school year.
Also in October, face masks and coverings became optional for vaccinated employees in adult-only gatherings, such as faculty meetings and offices, and optional for students outdoors.
Given the recent decrease in infection rates in Nashville and the high vaccination rate among older students and faculty at USN, the Medical Advisory Board has given the green light to further reduction of the strong mitigation efforts the school implemented in August 2020. Administrators and divisional leadership are planning to roll back mandates in the coming weeks. Mask wearing in classrooms may soon become optional for fully-vaccinated students beginning with High School and gradually phasing into Middle School grades.