djr-2020-08-18-news-tpsd-school-start-twp08 (copy)

In this file photo from August 2020, masked Tupelo High School students begin the new school year. The Mississippi State Department of Health approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children pages 12 and up, opening up vaccination sites to some 164,600 potential candidates. 

TUPELO • Beginning today, more than 164,600 pre-teens and teens in Mississippi are eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

The Mississippi State Department of Health announced on Thursday that children ages 12 to 15 can begin receiving Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine across the state beginning immediately. Federal approval of the vaccine for pre-teens and teens was granted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

"We're excited to announce our support for the immunization effort for kids 12 to 15 for kids against COVID," State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said. "We know that we've had thousands and thousands of infections in this age group, and some young folks do die. And hundreds of people have been hospitalized in this age group."

Dobbs said evidence from vaccine trials shows a 100% effectiveness rate for Pfizer's vaccine at preventing COVID-19 among children.

Parents can schedule appointments for their children ages 12 to 15 at MSDH drive-thru, walk-in or pop up vaccination sites via MSDH's website  beginning 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Parents must accompany minors to the vaccination site, and they will be required to sign a consent form before their child receives the vaccine.

An MSDH survey conducted between December 2020 and March 2021 found that 52.2% of Mississippi parents surveyed intended to vaccinate their children for COVID-19 when a vaccine becomes available for their age group.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers also announced a voluntary COVID-19 testing program for school districts. All Mississippi schools have been invited to participate, and those that enroll will receive rapid test kits to test students, teachers and staff on a voluntary basis in an effort to catch asymptomatic cases.

The program was developed through funding from the CDC with a goal of screening individuals on a routine basis in order to identify infectious individuals and remove them from the school setting before they can pass the virus to others. 

"The department of health is supplying rapid test kits directly to the schools that are interested and enrolled, and each week, they will test those individuals who are willing in their school to try to identify infection before it can be transmitted," Byers said.

More than 30 schools have expressed interest in the program and at least two have already signed up, according to Byers. Rollout will continue throughout the summer ahead of the 2021-22 school year.

Tupelo Public School District Superintendent Dr. Rob Picou said there are currently no ongoing discussions regarding participation in the testing program.

There is no indication that requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for students will be necessary before they return to school in the fall, according to Dobbs.

"The likelihood is that everyone will either get COVID or get vaccinated," Dobbs said. "And it's so much safer by many thousands-fold to get vaccinated, so please, if you're not vaccinated, do it now."

He added that having kids vaccinated for COVID will let them get back to normal life.

"We know that they've missed out on a lot this past year and this is a pathway for them to get back to normal adolescence and childhood," Dobbs said.

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