Needed: a unified home-camp-school vaccination partnership

In Short

How we can ensure maximum vaccinations considering this population’s mobility during the summer months?

During chol ha’moed Pesach, news broke that Pfizer’s vaccine trials in 12-15 year olds had gone exceedingly well, reporting 100% efficacy and robust antibody response in this adolescent age group. As the parent of two children in this age range – and as the leader of a PK-8 school – I was both personally and professionally thrilled and relieved to read this hopeful news. It will be yet another critical tool in protecting our school and extended communities, our neighbors, and the wider world.   

As I spun out the timetable, though, understanding the five-week length of time between first shot and full effectiveness, I wondered whether shots will be in these tween and teen arms early enough to impact summer camp plans and/or our schools’ fall openings. Even if the FDA’s EUA extension happens over the next few weeks or month, when might supply meet older adults’ demand sufficiently to then be able to extend shots to this lower risk age group? Might some adolescents be able to get the first shot before camp but need the second one during their time away?

Of course, availability varies dramatically by state and region, but with many Jewish students leaving for summer camp or travel in June and some of them not returning until mid-August, I began wondering about how we can ensure maximum vaccinations considering this population’s mobility during the summer months. This strikes me as the moment for the most robust and urgent Home-Camp-School partnership we have ever had. Ensuring that adolescent students/campers have the opportunity for vaccinations, wherever they are this summer, will mean a world of difference for our camps and our schools. Although our schools have demonstrated this year that we can operate safely with unvaccinated students and teachers alike, vaccinations would dramatically ease the constraints of this past year for the children, families and our community institutions. 

How can our field work together – alongside our local health departments and providers – to ensure access?  How can we create a unified effort so each institution is not inventing the wheel alone, even as they are juggling so many other machinations to get summer and fall planned and underway? Imagining the critical issues will be parental consent, legal protections for institutions if they are having shots administered, managing and reporting adverse reactions (and being able to distinguish them from actual Covid symptoms), and educating about expectations and protocols for vaccinated children, let’s marshal our shared resources to navigate these questions together. How can individual camps and schools share their progress or roadblocks? What might be the role of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and/or Prizmah in helping us share knowledge, practice, and craft a unified, coordinated approach to maximize vaccinations and improve health outcomes for summer and fall in our interconnected institutions?  

I know that there are individual camps already working on this and am both grateful and eager to help ease their already heavy burden as they plan for an incredibly complex summer. What can we carry for them? With Rosh Hashanah coming over Labor Day weekend this year, we have the opportunity to start both 5782 and the 2021-2022 school year off more safely, calmly and happily. Let’s seize the summer together toward that goal. 

Dr. Deborah Skolnick-Einhorn is Head of School at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital.