KENDALLVILLE — If schools need to do a little persuading to get people to consider the COVID-19 vaccine for themselves of their K-12-age students, “no quarantines” may be all they need to say to convince some.
But, beyond a get-out-of-classroom-disruption-free card, the Noble County Health Department’s new public health nurse said the choice between vaccinating or not really comes to do weighing chances. And, simply put, the chances of something bad happening to a child are higher by not getting the vaccine.
Noble County Public Health Nurse Anne Lowe visited with East Noble administrators, school nurses and building principals Monday morning to share information and answer questions ahead of a vaccine clinic the school has volunteered to host on June 28.
The planned clinic is scheduled to run from 3-6 p.m. at East Noble Middle School, with vaccines available for anyone who wants them, but with a specific goal of vaccinating more students age 12 and up and their family members.
As vaccination numbers have dropped sharply at the health department clinic at the Noble County Public Library branch in Albion, the county has begun taking the shots on the road to where they’re needed.
“We’re doing whatever we can to break down some of those barriers,” Lowe said.
In total, only about 1-in-3 people age 12 and older in Noble County are fully vaccinated and, statewide — where the Indiana average is more than 10 percentage points higher than the county — fewer than 30% of people younger than 30 have been immunized.
Lowe was invited to share information and answer questions with building leaders ahead of the clinic, since principals and school health staff are likely to be points of contact for families who have questions.
But if schools want to be the messenger to help encourage people to get vaccinated “no more quarantines” could be a major selling point.
“Quarantines were a huge pain,” Lowe said. “This is what the vaccine can stop.”
As of now, schools individually will be making decisions about internal policies like masks, social distancing, virtual instruction, pending any further updates from the governor’s office.
While it’s unclear what will happen to two-week quarantines, Lowe said she would expect that quarantine requirements for cases and close-contacts are likely to remain, as that’s standard procedure even for other infectious diseases that are vaccine controlled like measles and chicken pox.
While the end of the 2019-2020 school year was shut down prematurely, the 2020-21 school year was one punctuated by students going in and out of classes as COVID-19 cases and exposures pushed large swaths of students to two-week quarantines at home.
Lowe acknowledged that children generally don’t have severe cases of COVID-19 or suffer major symptoms, but that doesn’t mean that the virus isn’t hugely disruptive to them and their families.
“We want kids to be in their seat to learn and we want them to be able to engage in extracurricular activities,” Lowe said. “We also want parents to be at work.”
East Noble High School Nurse Jessica James said contact tracing was a huge burden on school medical staff and she dealt with numerous parents who were angry that their students had to be sent home on quarantine.
Anyone who gets vaccinated doesn’t need to quarantine unless they become symptomatic and breakthrough cases among vaccinated people are exceptionally rare, Lowe said.
That no-quarantine privilege isn’t as expansive for people who just have immunity after an infection recovery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people still quarantine if they become exposed at any point after 90 days of recovering from COVID-19, as its believes immunity through natural infection is much less durable than from vaccination.
The vaccines have been in use among trial participants for approximately a year now with no signs of fading, so Lowe said any student who gets vaccinated this summer isn’t likely to need a booster shot for at least a year, maybe longer as doctors and scientists continue to study the efficacy of the vaccine long-term.
Even people who had COVID-19 are recommended to get the vaccine, as vaccine-based immunity generally proves to be longer lasting and more durable than natural immunity when other diseases have been studied.
“We may find out that we don’t need a booster at all. We may find out we need it in five years or two years. Right now it’s looking pretty good. Immunity is lasting a long time,” Lowe said.
Outside of students and their parents, Assistant Superintendent Becca Lamon reminded staff that money and allowances for COVID-19 under past stimulus packages are now expired. Someone who is out for COVID will have to use their normal sick days, which is likely to burn all their time off in one shot if they have to complete a two-week quarantine.
Lowe also answered a few questions staff members had heard about the vaccine, especially in concern to youngsters.
First, there’s absolutely no evidence the COVID-19 vaccine has any impact on reproductive fertility.
A widespread social media post claiming COVID-19 antibodies will cause the immune system to attack the placenta in women is simply not grounded in any scientific fact.
Lowe noted that, the body creates the same antibodies regardless of whether immunity is created via contact with the virus or from a vaccine. If the fertility posts were true anyone who comes into contact with the virus or vaccine would have problems, which is known to not happen.
East Noble High School Principal Kathy Longenbaugh also asked about a concern regarding athletes and possible cases of myocarditis, or heart inflammation.
Lowe confirmed there had been reports of some mild cases of myocarditis among teenage males after receiving a vaccine, but that number nationally was less than 10. Still, the matter was being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for possible causal links, although none have been determined.
Lowe pivoted, however, to note that inflammation is a known symptom in COVID-19 cases and that heart issues have been linked to the virus infection at much higher rates than are currently reported via vaccines.
Lamon also reminded staff that student-athletes must complete a physical screening after a COVID-19 case, which can cost more than $1,000 to get required heart scans and blood tests. Those would not be required for someone who is vaccinated.
That heart example was a closing theme of Lowe’s presentation Monday, in that, yes, nothing in medicine comes completely without risk, but there are also known risks — usually at rates significantly higher — with not protecting yourself and your family.
“You’re chancing it either way, but with actual COVID infection it is a far greater risk,” Lowe said.
COVID-19 numbers have been down recently, but the lull in cases can create a false sense of security. Numbers were also down in June and July 2020 before surging upward sharply to record highs in fall and winter.
What is known is that the COVID-19 cases that are still occurring are almost exclusively among the non-vaccinated population.
“Among the vaccinated people COVID has almost completely disappeared,” Lowe said. “Among unvaccinated, it’s spreading as quickly as it was in December.”
Lowe said the most important thing is to listen seriously to concerns from people who are on the fence about the vaccine and that many people who are holding off on vaccines are doing so because they want more information like anyone would expect before making any medical decision.
Lowe also said she tells people that no one has to make the decision right now, although finds many people do change their mind rather quickly if their concerns are addressed with good information, respect and care.