Superintendent for Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) Carlee Simon announced Tuesday night that the school district expects to expand COVID-19 vaccine clinics to include students age 12 and up as early as next week.
The move comes as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to announce authorization for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to children ages 12 to 15.
Dr. Michael Lauzardo, deputy director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at UF Health said at the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) meeting that the vaccination of students ages 12 and older starting next week “will have a big impact” on slowing the spread of COVID-19. He also said it will affect upcoming decisions about removing the face mask requirement for teachers, staff and students.
“We still have some heavy lifting in terms of vaccines to do,” said Lauzardo, who recommended keeping the face mask rule in place for the rest of the school year.
After public comment from parents both in favor and against continuing the face mask mandate for the school district, Simon explained that there are exemptions on mask policy and accommodations for students who have medical needs.
Simon also cited federal transportation rules that are part of the requirement for wearing face masks on school buses.
“It’s still federal law with transportation,” she said. “Masks are required on buses until mid-September.”
According to Lauzardo, the trend he sees with the University of Florida campus is starting to happen in Alachua County.
Vaccinating on campus has been “very effective,” he said, adding that 70 percent of students and 90 percent of faculty have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
As a result, Lauzardo said there have been single-digit cases reported daily at UF over the last 10 days.
“We are starting to see it happen in Gainesville and Alachua County as well,” he said.
On Monday Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order and legislation ending all local government emergency orders, but the action did not affect businesses or schools. ACPS promptly announced it would continue its policies through the end of the near-complete school year.
Lauzardo told the board that’s the right thing to do.
“Nobody wants to get rid of the masks more than I do,” Lauzardo said. “But with a couple of minutes left in the game, don’t spike the ball on the 10-yard line when you can make a touchdown.”