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Missoula Public Schools Offer Vaccine Clinic For Kids 12 And Older

Students walk into a school building with a sign in front that says 'Granite Pharmacy vaccine clinic entrance,' May 21, 2021.
Freddy Monares
Montana Public Radio
Students walk into Sentinel High School in Missoula, MT during a vaccine clinic for kids age 12 and up May 21, 2021.

Missoula County Public Schools is one of the first in the state to offer a COVID-19 vaccine clinic tailored for kids 12 and older, right before schools let out for summer vacation. The school district last week vaccinated an estimated 1,000 kids.

Jessica Clixby sat with her two daughters on the bleachers inside the school gymnasium at Sentinel High School last week. Her daughters had just gotten the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine somewhere in the middle of the school’s basketball court.

Clixby’s family has plans this summer.

“It definitely gave me peace of mind as well to know that they were vaccinated before we do those travels and they’re around new people,” she says.

Missoula County Public Schools is among the first in the state to hold a student vaccine clinic on the campus of one of its schools. It’s an effort to distribute the vaccine to kids who want it, and prevent disruptions from students and teachers contracting the virus next school term.

Missoula’s Superintendent Rob Watson says during the pandemic the virus forced teachers and students considered close contacts to miss class. That hasn’t happened as much recently, he says.

“What I believe is that this sort of process really helps reduce transmission in our community, but also helps us just stay in school and keep school moving pretty much normally.”

He says vaccines can knock out those unexpected disruptions for the next school year.

“And a lot of times, it’s because they’re vaccinated or because we just don’t have as many cases in school, so there’s not as many opportunities to become a close contact.”

A table with colorful Band-Aids, sanitizer and a cup full of lollipops at a May 21, 2021 vaccine clinic at Sentinel High School in Missoula, MT.
Credit Freddy Monares / Montana Public Radio
Montana Public Radio
A table with colorful Band-Aids, sanitizer and a cup full of lollipops at a May 21, 2021 vaccine clinic at Sentinel High School in Missoula, MT.

Montana School Boards Association President Lance Melton says he thinks Missoula is the first to hold a vaccine clinic for kids after Pfizer was approved for that age group. With a few weeks left of school, he says, the school district won’t get anything out of the kids being vaccinated this year.

“So, I think what they’re really doing is looking forward and trying to help and support families and provide them a place to get this done.”

Bozeman Public Schools and Gallatin City-County Health Department earlier this month also held a vaccine clinic for kids age 12 and older. Logan Health in Kalispell held a vaccine clinic at Glacier High School last week.

Back at the clinic, school nurses from across the district administered doses of the vaccine to kids inside the gym. Tables set up as vaccine stations were covered with camouflage, leopard print and floral patterned Band-Aids. Most had a cup full of lollipops to give the kids after they got poked.

Eric Beyer owns Granite Pharmacy, the clinic that partnered with the Missoula school district to get the shots. He says he heard from families that just wanted to travel, see family and get their lives somewhat back to normal.

“We’ve had so many parents tell us what a relief this is or how glad they are we got this done before summer hit because — either sports, travel, whatever it might be.”

Beyer says there was a little concern about kids who don’t like needles and whether they were going to follow through with appointments to get vaccinated. Instead, he heard from lots of kids who wanted to make a difference for grandparents or parents who’ve gotten sick.

“They know what this means, and we’ve had a lot of 15-year-olds say, ‘I want to be part of this.’ You know, ‘when I look back on the pandemic, that I made a difference. I got vaccinated.’”

And parents were happy to have their kids get the shot at the high school — some even got it between classes.

Jessica Clixby says she was hesitant at first to get her kids vaccinated. 

“As a mother, it makes you think of all of the things that you’re doing for your kiddos, and you only want to do what’s best for your kiddos. And so, it’s really hard to know if giving them the shot is the right thing because I want to protect them. And is it protecting them by giving them the shot or protecting them by not?”

She says side effects and just not knowing the information behind the vaccine made her nervous about it. After looking at federal resources and chatting with a friend who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clixby says she felt comfortable getting them the shots.

“And then, you gotta go with your gut. And that’s a really hard thing to do, but I believe I’ve done the right thing, definitely.”

Like a lot of parents at the clinics, Clixby says the vaccine has set her at ease, and she’s hopeful that school can get back to what it was like before COVID-19.

Freddy Monares was a reporter and Morning Edition host at Montana Public Radio.
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