The first lady, Jill Biden, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, seeking to enlist schools in the effort to vaccinate 28 million young children against the coronavirus, will travel to Virginia on Monday to visit an elementary school that made history in 1954 when its students were the first to receive the polio vaccine as part of a nationwide clinical trial.
The trip to Franklin Sherman Elementary School in the Washington suburb of McLean, Va., will be the kickoff of what the Biden administration says will be a nationwide push to persuade parents and guardians to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11, and to engage schools in the effort.
The administration’s campaign to vaccinate young children does not look at all like it did when the vaccine was rolled out nearly a year ago for adults. There are no mass vaccination sites. Pediatricians are being enlisted to help work with parents. The vials — and the needles to administer doses — will be smaller.
Schools like Franklin Sherman Elementary, which is hosting its own vaccination clinic, will be central to the effort. By spotlighting the school, the White House hopes to offer the public a reminder of an earlier era when the country pulled together to fight a terrifying disease. (Among those who contracted polio is Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who walks with a slight limp as a result.)
The school and its “polio pioneer” students are mindful of their place in history; one of them, Jackie Lonergan, now 75, told The Washington Post that parents did not question whether their children should get the experimental vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. (In a rare interview in 1993, Dr. Salk told a reporter that his vaccine had offered “freedom from fear.”)
Public health experts view vaccinating young children against the coronavirus as a critical step toward bringing the pandemic under control. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 at the end of October, and last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed suit by endorsing the recommendation.
But persuading parents to get their children vaccinated has sometimes been difficult, even when the children are older. In more rural and conservative areas of the country, school officials are treading lightly in promoting the vaccine.
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation published last month before the F.D.A.’s action, found that 27 percent of parents said they would “definitely not” get their 5-to-11-year-olds vaccinated against the coronavirus. An additional 33 percent said they would “wait and see” how the vaccine was working before getting their children the shots.
White House officials say that Dr. Biden will continue to visit pediatric vaccination clinics across the country in the coming weeks. On Monday morning, Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, and Miguel Cardona, the education secretary, sent a letter to to school superintendents and elementary school principals across the country urging them to encourage childhood vaccination, including by holding clinics.
“This is a very exciting development and a significant opportunity to protect some of our youngest learners and our communities,” they wrote.
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