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CPS pushes shots with new data showing unvaxxed Chicago teens are 7-10 times more likely to get COVID

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said the district needed to act as a connector, helping families sign their school-aged children up for the vaccine through community providers.

Tessa Roy, 12, prepares to get vaccinated against COVID-19 at Rush University Medical Center in the Illinois Medical District earlier this year.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

With new figures showing Chicago’s unvaccinated teens are at far higher risk of contracting COVID-19, Chicago Public Schools officials are pushing efforts to boost vaccinations among school-aged children.

New Chicago data indicates COVID-19 infection rates are seven times higher among unvaccinated 15-17 year olds compared to their fully vaccinated peers, and more than 10 times higher among unvaccinated 12-14 year olds.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said earlier this week that unvaccinated teens are “driving a lot of our outbreak right now” across the city.

At the monthly Board of Education meeting Wednesday, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez spoke about the need to increase access to shots and provide reliable information about vaccines to families. Schools are most powerful when they act as a “connector,” helping families schedule shots through community partners, Martinez said.

CPS schools are using parent-teacher conferences and report card pickups — scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday — to help families book a vaccine appointment, officials said. CPS also said officials were considering creating permission slips which would allow students to get vaccinated without a parent.

The district will also distribute fliers ahead of Thanksgiving, and post social media graphics about the importance of getting vaccinated.

“We can’t rely solely on social media campaigns, although that plays a really important role,” said Kenneth Papineau, the director of the district’s Office of Student Health and Wellness. “We’re looking at a combination of email, text messaging, or actual calls to families.”

The district will continue to offer the shot once a week at just four of the district’s 600 schools: Chicago Vocational Career Academy, Roosevelt High School, Michele Clark High School, Richards High School. The district also plans to host school-based mobile sites, with over 150 events scheduled during the months of November and December.

“In our existing programming, we’ve been really thoughtful about where we place those regional clinics,” Papineau said. “We’ve been really thoughtful about where we send our mobile providers with a focus right now on the COVID community impact areas that are indicated as hot by the city health department. “

On Friday, the city closed schools for “Vaccination Awareness Day,” an effort to push students to get their COVID-19 vaccine. More than 6,600 Chicago students were inoculated that day, while 13,000 more got shots over the weekend.

It’s unclear what percentage of students are vaccinated; CPS has not released data on how many of the district’s 330,000 students have gotten shots. But across Illinois and the nation, children have been vaccinated at a lower rate than adults.

Since vaccines were made available to children, officials said white families have lined up for the shot first. But last weekend, Black and Latino children were more likely to get the shot compared to the first eight days of eligibility, officials said.

“It gives us optimism about being able to close this gap for access for our Latinx, Black and Asian students,” Martinez said. “So many of our middle class, white families do have access to pediatricians ... it just for me just sends a message that we have to be active in helping our families.”

More than 2,500 students, and 700 staff members, have tested positive for the virus since school began.