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School divisions weigh in on vaccinating teens ahead of new school year

Virginia Beach and Chesapeake school leaders say they encourage vaccinations for students, but it is not required.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Right now, anyone over the age of 16 is eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine, and school leaders say parents should take note.  

Virginia Beach City Public Schools is aiming for a full-time return to the classroom, next school year. The division’s Chief Operations Officer, Jack Freeman is encouraging parents to consider getting their teens vaccinated.

“To have the additional opportunity to get 16-year-olds vaccinated, in addition to the fact that our staff had the opportunity to get vaccinated for a while now, it’s all good, positive progress to getting back to an education environment that is more familiar," he said.

Next door, Chesapeake Public Schools is also encouraging the vaccine.

The division's superintendent, Dr. Jared Cotton, said as the division prepares for a return to full-time, in-person instruction next school year, vaccinations will play a role in keeping everyone safe.   

“We were really one of the first, if not the first school districts in our region to start vaccinating our staff. That is a big deal and of course, there are going to be opportunities for students to get vaccinated, if parents choose," Dr. Cotton said. “We are certainly encouraging it."

Vaccines are not required, but both school divisions pointed to advice from health experts: having more people vaccinated means more chances to avoid outbreaks.

“I’m not a medical expert but I listen to Dr. Fauci and the evidence is, is that you are more protected by having the vaccine,” Freeman said. “The thing that we really want our families to know about, is the opportunity for those that are 16 and older. If they haven’t gone and looked recently, to go and look at see what’s available in the area.” 

Both divisions already have safety precautions in place for students and staff who are back in the classroom. School leaders say the vaccine is another step in the right direction. 

“Just like with our teachers, it’s another layer of protection for everyone and it will help us stay in school and it will also prevent us from having to quarantine large numbers of students or staff if we do have situations that do occur in our schools," Dr. Cotton said. 

A spokesperson with Portsmouth Public Schools said they will not “encourage any one course of action” but school officials will “share all vaccine information and guidance from health experts to aid students.”  

At Suffolk Public Schools, asked if they are encouraging vaccinations for teens, a spokesperson said they haven’t decided but ultimately, it’s up to parents.

Norfolk, Newport News, and Hampton city schools did not return a request for comment.

Health experts say the shot is safe for teens. To register for a shot and check availability at clinics around you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov for details on how to register. Some clinics are also accepting walk-ups.