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The president of Minnesota's largest teachers union is calling on state and local leaders to make sure school-age kids all get the COVID-19 vaccine now that the FDA advisory panel has endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for kids 5-11. 

“State and local leaders must be bold in their efforts to make this vaccine available to every student, no matter where they live or how much money they have,” Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said in a news release Tuesday. "There are serious issues of access in our health care system that must be overcome."

Those "bold" efforts should include vaccine clinics in schools, with buses for families to get there; paid time off for parents so they can take time off work to get their kids vaccinated; and proclaiming a state holiday for vaccinating students once there are enough doses available. 

"All options should be on the table," Specht says. 

Education Minnesota has long been a supporter of the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as other COVID-19 mitigation measures, to keep kids safe and learning in school buildings. 

“Almost every educator and parent wants their school to focus on the academic and social-emotional needs of its students and put the relentless anxiety about COVID-19 behind it,” Specht said. “The only way we get there is through listening to the affected communities and delivering vaccinations in a comprehensive, equitable way to students, parents and educators all over the state. 

"The process may take several months, but it will be worth it," Specht said. 

Pfizer said its vaccine is 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in kids 5-11, and the FDA panel on Tuesday recommended the FDA issue an emergency use authorization for the vaccine for that age group. The FDA still has to authorize it for emergency use and then the CDC makes its own recommendations.

Once the jab gets the OK, state officials have said they're ready to get doses in the arms of kids. The Pfizer vaccine for kids 5-11 is a lower dose, with health officials saying they'll be distributed to health care and public health organizations, while pharmacies will get doses from the federal government.

Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm has said the state is looking at what other community vaccination sites they could open, including school-based vaccine clinics, the Star Tribune reported

The Pfizer vaccine has already gotten emergency use authorization for kids 12-15, and it has gotten full FDA approval for people 16 and older. Meanwhile, the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are available to people 18 and older.

“We urge parents of school-age children to get them vaccinated unless there’s a rare and legitimate medical reason not to," Specht said. 

The latest COVID-19 figures in Minnesota's preK-12 schools show 13 school staff members have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and two students have died, including two more staff members and one student in last week's update (the data is updated weekly on Thursdays).

Following the staff and student deaths, Education Minnesota called on all school districts to implement masking, social distancing, quarantine and vaccination guidelines. 

The number of Minnesotans getting vaccinated against COVID continues to increase, albeit the rate at which people are getting the shot has plummeted since the spring

In total, more than 3 million Minnesotans, or 70% of people 12 and older, have completed the COVID-19 vaccine series. That includes more than 153,000 kids ages 12-15 and 84,702 kids ages 16-17.

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