Anchorage School District prepares to offer COVID vaccine to kids ages 5 and up as early as Wednesday

a person gives a thumbs up
Anchorage School District superintendent Deena Bishop signals to the next patient at a COVID-19 vaccination station in January. The district plans to start offering vaccines to students ages 5 and up starting as early as Wednesday. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage School District is preparing to offer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to students ages 5 and up as soon as its federally approved. That could mean offering the shot as early as Wednesday, said Superintendent Deena Bishop.

Bishop said the district will offer the vaccine to students at the Anchorage Education Center. She said the district has already had success with helping get older kids vaccinated, and she anticipates it continuing with younger students.

“We had drive-up clinics all through the summer for the teens to get them,” Bishop said in an interview Monday. “And that was successful. And now we have another opportunity to really provide that customer service to our parents.” 

Bishop said parent consent will be required for students to get vaccinated.

The district estimates that 21,000 of its students will become eligible for the shot when the vaccine is approved for children ages 5 to 11, according to a letter sent to district families on Monday.

Bishop said she expects the earliest time younger kids will be able to get vaccinated at the Education Center is Wednesday, Nov. 3, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. A full list of vaccine clinic dates, including some drive-up clinics held at different high schools, is on the district website

As for adults, federal vaccine mandates from the Biden administration have employees across the state wondering if they will need a shot to keep their jobs.

While the federal mandate says businesses with more than 100 employees must require vaccines, Bishop said school districts are exempt. She said the district is encouraging teachers and staff to get vaccinated, but she doesn’t anticipate mandating the shots.

“My recommendation to the school board is to continue with voluntary vaccinations,” Bishop said. “Allow employees to continue to teach employees about it, continue to share information, but allow employees to choose whether or not to have their vaccine. Same with families and their children.”

Bishop said the district is also ramping up its COVID-19 testing capacity in schools. At the start of this school year, she said, hundreds of kids were pulled out of school after showing coronavirus symptoms or being close contacts with positive cases. Many had to wait days at home for results, missing out on school. 

Starting in September, the district began a pilot program with local lab Beechtree Diagnostics to offer same-day COVID-19 testing in its high schools. The program has slowly expanded, and Bishop said all schools that have a nurse should have testing equipment soon. 

“We are figuring out the logistics to get it to all the schools,” Bishop said. “By this week, it’ll all be done. So our parents and our staff can be right on site, get tested and know before the next day, and Beechtree has come through for us.”

Parental consent will also be needed for kids to get tested. Bishop said testing is only available to students with symptoms and those who were close contacts with another positive case.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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