RSF School District hosts vaccine information night as kids 12 and up are now eligible

RSF School District
(Staff photo)

The Rancho Santa Fe School District held an information night on COVID-19 vaccinations for children on May 26.

Dr. Kelly Motadel, child public health officer for the San Diego County Public Health and Human Services Agency, shared a presentation to help give parents the information they need to make the right decision for their family and the community. Also in attendance were Stacy Charat, Chris Longhurst and Krista Young, three of the physicians who have been helping in the district’s efforts to keep everyone safe during this pandemic school year as part of the health advisory committee.

“People will have to make their own personal decisions with vaccinations for themselves and their families,” Charat said. “As medical professionals, our responsibility is to provide information and the current scientific data that we have which supports that, for many people, the benefit outweighs the risk not only to the individual but to the immediate family and to the larger community.”

San Diego County’s goal is to fully vaccinate 75% of residents ages 12 and older, or 2,101,936 people. Per the latest numbers from the county, more than 1.91 million or 68.2% of San Diegans have received at least one shot and 53% are fully vaccinated.

To date, 90.9% of the goal population has received at least one vaccine and 70.6% are fully vaccinated.

Data is still accumulating to show that transmission is decreased/prevented with vaccinations but trends can be seen locally and nationwide that there is a decline in cases. In the last week, the county had recorded double digit numbers of cases, low numbers that the county hadn’t seen since last spring.

“We’re really seeing great progress and we want to keep that going,” Motadel said.

According to Motadel, there are pockets in the Rancho Santa Fe community that have very low vaccination rates and others that have high vaccination rates so, overall, Rancho’s vaccination rates fall somewhere in between. The 92067 zip code is part of three census tracts—in one (which includes 23% of the zip code) 99% of the 12-year-old and older population is vaccinated; in another (representing 50% of the land in the zip code) only 29.8% is vaccinated and in the third (which accounts for 27% of the land in the zip code), 54.9% is vaccinated.

Currently only the Pfizer vaccine is available for children ages 12-15. According to Superintendent Donna Tripi, Pfizer is anticipating children ages 2-11 may be able to get vaccinated by late fall or the end of the calendar year. Vaccines for children ages 6 months to 2 years old are still being studied and could be cleared by early 2022.

At the information night, Motadel shared some of the myths and facts about the vaccine, provided a background about vaccine development and shared why it is important for children to be vaccinated.

Motadel said one myth is that people who have already had COVID won’t benefit from getting the vaccine—she said that is untrue and that the immunity from the illness is variable. She encouraged everybody, including those who have been sick with COVID, to get vaccinated: “It’s really one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family and your community.”

There were also a lot of misconceptions about the new mRNVA vaccine, that it would give people COVID. Motadel said the mRNA vaccines are not a live virus and do not give you the illness—the mRNA acts as a messenger, stimulating the immune system to teach it how to recognize and fight the virus.

It does not alter the DNA, she said.

Another myth gaining some traction lately is that the vaccine can cause fertility issues.

“There has been no evidence and no biological logic behind why this would be the case,” said Motadel. “The mRNA disappears pretty quickly after it does its job so there is not the ability for it to cause any long-term issues.”

Among the many questions R. Roger Rowe School parents had was why they should vaccinate if they could still contract COVID-19.

“There’s definitely a huge benefit and reduction in your risk in getting COVID-19 as a result of getting the vaccine, we know that,” Motadel said. “Do some people still get sick? Yes, but it’s a very small percentage. These are incredibly effective vaccines.”

Those who do get sick, Motadel said, are much less likely to have a severe illness. The majority of breakthrough infections are mild or without symptoms at all.

Charat said according to the latest numbers as of end of April, the CDC was reporting 10,262 breakthrough infections in those fully immunized, out of 101 million who had been vaccinated. Of those breakthrough infections, less than 1,000 were hospitalized. Of those, 30% had no symptoms and were hospitalized for other reasons.

Parents also questioned why children should be vaccinated if they are not at as much risk. Motadel said although the older population is more at risk for severe disease, throughout the pandemic over 300 children in the country have died, more than any recent flu season.

Benefits of the vaccination for children are to protecting them from having to be isolated, missing activities and school as well as protecting their heath from long-term consequences of COVID such as long-haul syndrome or multi-system inflammatory syndrome, which can also be deadly.

“We want to protect our kids first and foremost but it will also protect those around them,” Motadel said, noting younger people do spread the virus. “The more people vaccinated in our community, the less opportunity there is for the disease to spread and the less opportunity for variants to develop and evolve.”

There are many concerns about the vaccine development and how quickly it was approved. While some vaccines can take 10 to 15 years to get through the process, Motadel said the COVID vaccines benefited from global cooperation, sufficient funding and a singular focus —no steps were skipped along the way and some happened concurrently.

The vaccine has also also benefitted from continual quality monitoring: “This is probably the most monitored vaccine in history,” she said.

Recently a small number of children experienced heart inflammation (myocarditis) after receiving the mRNA vaccine but it is unclear whether there is a link. Motadel said public awareness has been raised for pediatricians and parents to report any health concerns that arise after vaccination so it can be investigated and monitored.

“When you hear some of the potential side effects of the vaccine it’s certainly alarming…but it is reassuring to know how closely the effects of this vaccine are being tracked,” Charat said, giving for example how Johnson & Johnson determined a signal that detected six people out of 6.8 million people vaccinated experienced blood clots. The distribution was paused in April and it was ultimately determined to be safe to continue.

Longhurst said he understands parent concerns about vaccinating children ages 2-11 due to the low risk of severe disease and the questions that remain—he said there is a lot more to learn and he expects there will be more answers over the summer as they collect more data about the youngest children.

He said the most important message he wanted to send was to adults and those who are vaccine eligible, knowing that vaccination rates are low in some areas of Rancho Santa Fe.

“The more adults, parents, siblings and high schoolers that we get vaccinated the less critical it is for those younger children to vaccinate because the rates of spread will be inhibited by the vaccinated population,” Longhurst said. “If you have a middle schooler or high schooler, getting them vaccinated is a very good idea.”

A recording of the presentation will be posted on the website: