Chicago public schools not tracking COVID boosters among students and staff

Chicago public schools not tracking COVID boosters among students and staff
Chicago public schools not tracking COVID boosters among students and staff

Chicago Public Schools are not tracking students or staff who received the updated omicron reminder, even as district leaders and the city’s health commissioner urge students to get boosted to avoid another surge of COVID.

Chicago’s practice of not keeping tabs on schools’ updated booster vaccinations comes as parts of the country experience a surge in COVID-19, driven, in part, by a new omicron subvariant known as the name of XBB.1.5. It also comes as cities and school districts have largely phased out most COVID-19 mitigation measures.

The district, which has fought against vaccination in predominantly black schools on the South and West Sides, told Chalkbeat Chicago in response to a freedom of information request that it does not “comprehensively track information on student and/or staff COVID bivalent reminders,” Annie Righi, a CPS FOIA officer, said in an email response.

Chicago Public Schools continue to follow the initial primary series, but not the boosters, according to a district spokeswoman.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, a person is considered up-to-date with their vaccines after completing the initial series and the final booster recommended by the federal agency.

According to the CDC, those who are not eligible for the booster are considered current if they have completed the primary series.

Although the public school system isn’t tracking the data, data from the city’s health department shows that about 80,000 school-age Chicagoans received a booster as of Jan. 2.

On Tuesday, Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, predicted the COVID risk level would increase in the coming weeks after the holidays. Chicago schools return to class on January 9.

Arwady said his department continues to monitor cases of COVID, influenza and other respiratory infections. Influenza, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV and other respiratory infections have led to an increase in the number of hospitalizations among children in recent months.

“However, I certainly continue to have concerns about COVID,” Arwady said.

In Chicago, the city’s COVID transmission rate remains average, according to a CDC rating system.

Currently, the seven-day average of lab-confirmed cases in the city is 452, according to city records.

If Cook County reaches a high level of COVID, Chicago will issue a formal mask advisory, Arwady said.

School districts across the country have relied on vaccinations to keep children and youth in school despite the ongoing pandemic. Still, districts, including Chicago Public Schools, have struggled to get vaccinated in predominantly black and Latino schools.

About half of all students enrolled in Chicago public schools — about 154,000 children — have received their first round of COVID-19 vaccinations as of Jan. 2, the data shows. But an analysis by Chalkbeat shows that vaccination rates vary widely from school to school, with predominantly black schools lagging behind.

Elementary and secondary schools operated by the majority black district had an average vaccination rate of 24.7% as of January 2, compared to 23% in September. According to an analysis by Chalkbeat, elementary and secondary schools run by the mostly Latino district averaged 49.4%, down from 48.5% in September.

Black and Latino schools have seen less than a one-percentage-point increase since the start of the school year in the number of students vaccinated at district-run schools, the data shows.

It’s unclear how many Chicago Public School students received the updated reminder. But city data shows about 51,587, or 28.5 percent, of 12- to 17-year-olds and 29,943 or 14.2 percent, of Chicagoans ages 5 to 11 received a booster as of Jan. 2.

According to the district FOIA office, vaccination information is entered into the system when it is self-reported or if the vaccine was received at a CPS vaccination site.

“Data collected is not disaggregated by booster versus initial vaccination, nor is data collected by type of booster given,” Righi said in an email response.

Chalkbeat Chicago requested bivalent per-school callback rates beginning Dec. 13, but the FOIA department told it there were “no responsive records.”

In an emailed statement, Chicago Public Schools said it continues to promote the latest vaccine boosters and initial rounds and bivalent vaccines at elementary and high school/charter school events.

The district did not respond to questions about why it is not following the bivalent booster vaccine.

Thomas Wilburn contributed to this report.

Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago covering K-12 schools. Contact Mauricio at [email protected]

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