WESTFIELD – Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski informed the Westfield School Committee on May 17 that an opportunity had presented itself by multiple people from Curative, the group running the mass vaccination clinics at the Big E, to host mobile vaccine clinics at the schools.
“It would not be mandated or required, but completely voluntary if we did it,” Czaporowski said, adding that he wanted to know what the thoughts of school committee members were before learning more.
During public participation at the start of the meeting, parent Jessica Britton called in with some comments after seeing the mobile clinics listed on the agenda. Britton said she is a mother of three in the district, one of whom is graduating. She said she had worked in the medical industry for 13 years, some in pharmaceutical sales, and she had some concerns.
Britton talked about the risk benefit of putting a patient on medication. She said there are a lot of ramifications, and was concerned that the doses, which have emergency approval, are the same for a child of 50 pounds and an adult of 200 pounds, and asked if there would be a risk-management consultant present. She also said they will be dealing with children with severe allergies, and asked if parents would be there to give consent.
During the discussion, school committee member Cindy Sullivan said she thought it would be a good idea to have accessibility to the vaccines. She said parental consent would be required for anyone under the age of 18, and she didn’t think the clinics should operate during the school day.
“I’m not a fan of requiring it,” Sullivan said, suggesting holding it in the afternoon or on Saturdays, and using CARES funds to make it happen. Sullivan said her experience with mobile clinics has been that there are emergency medical technicians and paramedics on hand in partnership with the fire department. “It’s a good idea to get as many people who want to be vaccinated, vaccinated,” she said.
Committee member Ramon Diaz, Jr. said he would support it, but “absolutely not” as a requirement, and parental consent would be needed. “I wouldn’t have a problem if we were doing it during the school day. It’s important for people who want the vaccine, which is difficult to get now,” he said.
Committee member Bo Sullivan said for maximum exposure, he wouldn’t mind holding it during the school day either. “Maybe at the end of the day when most people are there, if people want it, and we have the opportunity to give it,” he said, adding he would support “absolutely nothing” without parental approval. “We don’t do anything without parental approval,” he said.
“Our school day is supposed to be reading, writing, arithmetic, and we’re constantly doing social (activites) on every issue,” said Heather Sullivan. She said she supported the idea of doing a mobile clinic, but didn’t think it should be during the day. “I think kids should be accompanied by a parent. I don’t want to take this on during the school day; the responsibility falls on the parent,” Sullivan said, adding that she would be a no to holding the clinic during the school day.
School Committee Vice Chair Timothy O’Connor said if the clinic is only going to be before or after school, what would be the difference with a parent taking a child to CVS for a shot. “There has to be something put in place to make it more flexible. Aren’t parents doing that anyway, if they want their children vaccinated? If this is not a convenience, what makes it different than going to the Big Y or CVS?” he said.
O’Connor also asked for thoughts from Public Health Director Joseph Rouse, who was present on the call.
“This is a slippery slope for me on this one,” Rouse said, adding that things are evolving quickly. He said there is no shortage of availability for the vaccine and the Big E is not seeing the numbers they thought they would.
“This is emergency approval of a vaccine that we don’t have experience giving to the general populace of children, when we’re not seeing transmission in schools, the governor’s guidelines are becoming more lax, even with sports, and community numbers are continuing to go down. I kind of agree with Jessica Britton, there are too many unknowns, and we don’t know the risk benefit between 12 and 16,” Rouse said, adding there should be a consultation with a pediatrician.
Cindy Sullivan said the problem with the Big E is they only give vaccines between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and some people can’t get there. “I think we just need to make it available. Parents are not going to get their kids vaccinated unless they talk to a pediatrician,” she said, adding that the schools also hold blood drives which are voluntary.
Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. asked if parents would be able to get vaccinated, too. He also said he would not envision giving students vaccinations without parents being present.
Diaz said at the clinic he attended, a parent had to be present with a child under age 18. He said he would want to make it available for the entire family.
Czaporowski said he would reach out to Curative and come back to the committee with more details.