Backpacks, notebooks and pencils are standard back-to-school supplies, but families have another item to consider this year: a COVID-19 vaccine.
Believe it or not, most Tri-State school districts return to classes in a month or so, and that's about the same amount of time it takes for the two-shot vaccination regimens from Pfizer — the only vaccine authorized for use in people under 18 — to take full effect. That's why some health officials are reminding parents that, if they want their kids to be vaccinated by the first day of school, it's time to book an appointment.
For Grant County Middle School eighth-grader Gracee Hutchinson, the decision to get the shot came down to a single factor.
"I just don't want to wear a mask," she said. "So I just got it."
But for her mother, the decision was a bit more complicated.
"I do believe there are a lot of children that are immune-compromised," said Rebecca Hutchinson. "My daughter had a medical condition when she was younger and being exposed to certain illnesses would've been life-threatening to her."
With these things in mind, Gracee rolled up her sleeve Thursday at Holmes High School in Covington, Kentucky, which held a vaccination clinic that afternoon for students hoping to get their shots before school starts next month.
Gracee is near the bottom of the eligible age group, which cuts off at age 12.
Doses must be spaced three weeks apart, giving students like her just enough time to get both doses before school resumes. Covington Independent Schools hosted Thursday's clinic to line up with their students' Aug. 19 return.
Dr. Robert Frenck, director of the Center for Vaccine Research at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, said the only reason case numbers have trended down in recent months is because of the vaccine.
"This virus, we're getting ahead of things, we're getting better," he said. "Our rates are dropping. That's only because we're vaccinating. If we stop, the virus is going to pop back up again. … It's not if. It's when."
Encouraging students to get vaccinated in time for the 2021-22 school year, Frenck said, is a must to continue those trends.
"Most of them don't get that sick, but some of them do get very sick," he said. "And I can't predict who that is, and that's why I need to vaccinate everyone to protect every child because I don't want to see any child hospitalized or die from something we could've prevented."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 3% of people ages 12 to 15 years old have gotten at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. For ages 16 to 17, it's only 2%. Frenck said he hopes to see those numbers increase.
"Kids are getting infected, and the percentage of them getting infected are (sic) increasing," he said.
Rebecca Hutchinson hopes to see more kids get their shots, too.
"I think it's important for our society to build this immunization to COVID so we can go back to normal," she said.
It remained unclear Thursday when the FDA might authorize the vaccine for children younger than 12. Health officials predict it likely will not be any earlier than September and could be as late as January 2022, depending on when the government grants the Pfizer vaccine full approval.