Minneapolis health officials host free vaccination clinics to boost numbers before school starts
There are just a few weeks before school starts in Minnesota, and health officials are working to get children up to date with their vaccines.
The Minneapolis Health Department started a series of free clinics on Friday to meet families in their communities. The agency joined others at Cedar Field Park for a back-to-school event where kids could stock up on supplies and get vaccinated.
“It’s really nice to be able to come into your community and have such easy access,” said Gina Howie, who stopped by the park with her grandchildren. “I try to make sure they get all of their vaccines on time.”
Howie got a COVID vaccine along with her husband, who has stage four COPD. Her grandchildren received their vaccines the day prior.
“I want them to have a chance to grow up without catching something that could kill them,” said Howie. “It’s easy, and you really need it to stay healthy.”
The Health Department focused on COVID vaccines at this event. The next clinic on Saturday will provide measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccines.
“There’s just so many diseases that are vaccine-preventable,” said Tiana Cervantes, a senior public health specialist with the department. “The more kids that get vaccinated, the less likely it will spread rapidly if someone does get sick.”
According to the city, nearly two out of every five Minneapolis children are not up to date on their vaccines. Three in five Minneapolis teenagers aren’t up to date either.
The CDC wants 95% of children to have their first MMR shot by kindergarten. According to the city, only 60% of Minneapolis 4-year-olds have received their first shot.
Cervantes told us families got behind on vaccinations during the pandemic.
“We’re definitely trying to recover. During that period, parents didn’t even have the option to go and have appointments during the pandemic, so now we’re playing this game of catch-up,” she said.
For Mariah McLean, it’s a frequent topic of conversation in her household.
“I’m glad people can at least learn and have people around and feel a little more comfortable,” she said.
McLean’s two children are up to date with their vaccines, but she understands those who are hesitant.
“It’s such a personal choice,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of distrust among people of color, so I think it’s good to have our people around us when we’re making that decision.”
Statewide, the percentage of kindergarten and 7th-grade students fully vaccinated dropped during the pandemic. Both age groups remain about 4% to 5% lower than pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re working with our provider community to get these kids back in and back up to date so we can see much higher rates than what they were since the pandemic started,” said Lynn Bahta, an immunization clinical consultant for the Minnesota Department of Health.
Although the number of children with non-medical exemptions increased slightly, Bahta is encouraged that the percentage remains low.
“We see less than 5% of parents submitting documentation with a personal belief exemption,” she said. “The vast majority of parents do support immunizations.”
Bahta encourages parents to make appointments for annual check-ups sooner rather than later.
“For those who know their kids are behind, the sooner, the less panic you’ll feel towards the end of August,” said Bahta. “It’s nice to be back in school for all of us, and being up to date on all of the recommended vaccines will keep most of our kids in school the way they want to be.”