Danbury area officials successfully immunize children with school clinics

DANBURY – After about two weeks of immunizing children ages 5 to 11 against COVID-19, local health providers are seeing success in school-based vaccination efforts.

As of Thursday, 13% of children aged five to 11 in Connecticut received their first dose of the COVID vaccine, according to Governor Ned Lamont’s office. This is an increase from the three percent reported on November 8.

This most recently eligible age group makes up about 8 percent of Connecticut’s total population.

And running clinics in schools – an easy, familiar and accessible community place – has become a major tactic to get under-12s immunized in the Danbury area.

Griffin Health has organized more than 100 pediatric clinics across the state, including in Redding and Danbury, the majority being held in school clinics. Attendance ranged from 80 participants to over 350, according to Myra Odenwaelder, assistant vice president of therapeutic services for Griffin Health.

The healthcare provider held clinics this week at two elementary schools in Redding and has made its way steadily to elementary and middle schools in Danbury since November 15.

Griffin Health has 100 more clinics scheduled over the next few weeks, with more requests coming in daily, Odenwaelder added.

She did not provide an estimate of the total number of shots distributed and instead directed Hearst Connecticut to state data.

“This partnership is incredible,” said Kara Prunty, director of Danbury Health. “It seems like being in school worked really well.”

Griffin Health is also reporting positive results from these local relationships. Attendance was high in school clinics, Odenwaelder said. The group is also considering partnering with faith-based organizations, pediatrician offices and other trusted community voices to move forward.

“These connections have been very helpful to us or allowed us to pass information to families from a familiar source,” Odenwaelder said.

Schools already have a relationship with local families, and administering vaccines in schools provides a familiar and safe environment for children.

Schools have also become creative in their awareness raising campaign.

Redding has run their clinics during parent-teacher conferences to make it easier for parents to get their child vaccinated. Danbury has run school clinics between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to make it easier for parents, in addition to running out of school clinics six days a week.

“Our approach is really to give parents as many options as possible,” said Prunty.

The Connecticut Institute for Communities, Inc. has also worked closely with the Danbury Department of Health to provide a space to immunize children.

Reach and respond to demand

The demand for childhood vaccines is just about where health providers thought it would be.

For their first week of immunizing children under 12, Moranino said the CIFC had ordered 150 doses, which she saw as a cautious request.

“I think we were right about the money,” she said. “We are able to adjust every week if we start to see demand increase or decrease. “

To date, the organization has administered a total of 135 doses to children aged 5 to 11 since vaccinations began on November 8.

That includes 131 first doses and four second doses, according to Marlene Moranino, the organization’s program manager.

The Danbury Main Street Clinic gave an average of 25 to 30 injections per day. It sees its highest traffic after 3 p.m. when school lets out, Moranino said.

Demand at Danbury has been “really good,” but not overwhelming, according to Prunty.

On its first day of organizing children’s immunization clinics, New Milford administered vaccines to 300 children in towns across the region. Currently, 800 shots have been distributed at the city’s clinic sites, including their main site at the John Pettibone Community Center, according to Lisa Morrisey, the city’s director of health.

Up to 90% of appointments were filled shortly after Morrissey put them online.

The city has been a major player in the vaccine rollout in Litchfield County, and Morrissey has also worked with neighboring school districts to set up clinics.

Recently, Brookfield sent an email to parents in the district saying the city was teaming up with the New Milford Health Department to organize specialist children’s clinics as soon as the vaccine was approved for use.

New Milford currently hosts child-specific clinics on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Home for the holidays

At a children’s immunization clinic last Tuesday, Morrissey said she expected traffic to increase ahead of Thanksgiving as parents plan to see older parents and reunite with their families.

However, during the holidays, Prunty believes the demand is likely to drop.

CIFC clinics are not seeing an increase in demand yet, and Odenwaelder said it would be difficult to predict what future demand will look like.

“I imagine we’re probably going to have to change our strategies to meet demand and need,” she said.

Recently, school districts across the state, including New Milford, have seen an increase in positive cases. The majority of the city’s infections were among students at Sarah Noble Middle School.

Statewide, 776 students have tested positive, including 690 unvaccinated, the data shows.

“This information certainly reinforces the need for people to take vaccines seriously,” Odenwaelder said.

Although children are not as likely to suffer from a serious illness from contracting COVID-19, they can still pass the virus on to others. As the holidays approach, some families may be more wary of it.

“We see consistent schedules at the moment so I think that in itself is positive,” said Moranino. “Our approach really tries to be as open and flexible as possible so that people can access it in the easiest way for them.”

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