MUSC Health to bring COVID vaccines to Charleston County high schools

April 22, 2021
Box of Pfizer COVID vaccine vials.
Vials of the Pfizer COVID vaccine arrived at MUSC Health in December of 2020. Photo by Sarah Pack

Starting next week, MUSC Health will work with the Charleston County School District to offer COVID-19 vaccines to students 16 and up. MUSC Health pharmacists and doctors will supply the Pfizer vaccines and be on hand to help as needed while school nurses give the shots.

Dr. Allison Eckard 
Dr. Allison Eckard

Allison Eckard M.D., director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, said the vaccinations will be voluntary and require parental consent. “They're going to sign people up through an online registration, and part of the registration will be a parental consent process. Because the vaccine is new and some people are still hesitant about getting it, involving the parents is the right thing to do — although state laws don’t actually require parental consent.”

Jeff Borowy, chief operating officer for the school district, is eager to get started. “We want to try to get this out there as quickly as possible.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 and older, based on clinical trials that show it’s safe for them to get the shot. Pfizer is planning to expand that to children 12 and up in the near future — Eckard thinks maybe even in the next few weeks — and to all children six months and older likely in late 2021 or early 2022. Other vaccine makers hope to follow in Pfizer's footsteps.

Borowy said once more kids qualify for the vaccine, the district will offer shots to them, too. "We are doing whatever it takes to improve our position and lower the chances of having to quarantine students because of close contacts with people who have COVID.”

Eckard sees the school vaccinations as an important step toward post-pandemic life. “If people are interested in kids being in school without plexiglass and without masks, this is the way to do it. As more and more students and teachers are vaccinated, not only will the number of COVID cases decrease, but there will be fewer students who need to quarantine. It’s also the way to prevent even the small chance of severe disease in children and to protect those around them. It is our path forward and our best hope to move beyond this pandemic.”

MUSC Health has been working with the Charleston County School District since the early days of the pandemic to keep students, staff and their families as safe as possible. Its Back2Business team helped district leaders assess conditions in and outside of classrooms. In turn, the district shared data with Eckard that allowed her to warn when case numbers were spiking. And MUSC Health helped the district vaccinate teachers and other employees in March.

“It's been a huge value to us in getting the mission done and getting it done in a way that people believe in what we're doing, because of MUSC's reputation in the community,” Borowy said. “People trust MUSC’s experts, and using them as a foundation has really helped us.”

But trust doesn’t mean people don’t have questions, Eckard said, citing one that keeps coming up. “People ask me, ‘Why would you give the vaccine to a child if the chance that your child will develop severe COVID is very small?’ There are a couple of answers to that. One is that there are children who are at risk for severe COVID, and some who will be hospitalized or die. The risk is much lower than in adults, but it is still a risk. Two, there’s also the risk of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children. We’ve had over 100 cases of MIS-C now in South Carolina.” MIS-C is a rare but serious complication that sometimes shows up in children who didn’t even know they’d had a COVID infection.

To reduce those risks, MUSC Health will offer COVID vaccines in the district’s eight largest high schools. Other health care organizations will handle the rest of the district’s schools.

Eckard said it’s exciting for everyone involved to move toward getting kids vaccinated. “I feel very good about the Pfizer vaccine. It’s very effective in preventing COVID and preventing severe disease.”

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