The FDA’s decision came on Monday: It would authorize emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. Two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed suit, recommending that adolescents—the youngest population yet—begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
By Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after the CDC’s endorsement, the nurses at Mt. Lebanon School District were inoculating middle schoolers, watching them wriggle with anticipation, calming them as they winced at the needles and then celebrating the momentous occasion with them.
At the day’s end—in five hours, to be precise—about 10 nurses had helped administer nearly 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to students, averaging about four kids a minute. They had perfected the process, problem-solving every hiccup, after months of practice administering the vaccine to adults in the community, including school staff. It’s what allowed them to turn the vaccine clinic around so quickly after the CDC’s announcement. (Well, that and their newfound ability to transition from in-person to remote learning at a moment’s notice.)
“The kids were ecstatic,” says Deanna Hess, chairman of health services at the Pittsburgh-area school district. “They’re just so excited to get back to that normalcy—whatever normalcy is for them.”
School nurses have played an integral role throughout the pandemic. In many districts, they have stepped up over the last 14 months to provide COVID-19 tests, conduct contact tracing, set protocols for quarantines and serve as the liaison between schools districts and public health departments.
Now, as the U.S. rounds the corner on this crisis, their responsibilities have expanded. Many school nurses are putting shots into the arms of children as young as 12 and acting as trusted confidantes and guides to families who are not yet convinced vaccination is the right choice for their children right now.