New COVID vaccine education program aims to keep kids in the classroom

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A line of kids waits to start their first day at Margaret Murphy Kindergarten in Hudson Falls, N.Y. (Photo: Jay Petrequin)

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The first New York State resident to get a COVID-19 vaccine – a New York City critical care nurse – got the shot in December 2020. By the following March, state-run vaccine sites were open and scheduling appointments. And yet still, many months later, the work is far from over.

That’s why this week, Warren and Washington counties are putting together a new information campaign to try and get the information out there for the people in their communities. After so many months, the information holding some people back isn’t always factual.

“They’re making the decision based on misinformation on social media, and misinformation they hear elsewhere,” said Don Lehman, spokesman for Warren County. “We think that if we can make an effort here now that we’ve run into a plateau, maybe we can show them that there are benefits to this.”

The plateau Lehman mentions is a slowdown in residents coming to get vaccinated. As of Tuesday, the official state numbers stood at 84.3% of adults over 18 with at least one vaccine dose. In Washington County, the number is 70.6%. Those numbers are still rising, but at a rate of just a few new vaccinations per week, all at the same amount of effort as ever for the counties.

And so, the counties are lifting up the list of benefits that come with vaccination. Health personnel work directly with the public, and Warren and Washington both say that there are things people still don’t always know about what being vaccinated can do for them.

“One piece of information that people don’t seem to be getting is that if your kids vaccinated, they don’t have to quarantine if they’re exposed,” Lehman said.

That fact is true outside of schools as well – vaccinated adults don’t have to quarantine under those circumstances, either. But it’s a big talking point for concerned parents to know, as vaccines for 5-to-11-year-olds were recently authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration. They could start use as soon as this week. The rule means that parents with vaccinated children would be able to send them to school without worrying about them having to come home and miss learning and socializing.

“We really want to see kids stay in school as much as they can,” said Tim Hardy, Washington County’s Deputy Director of Public Safety.

Warren County has reported a steady stream of new coronavirus cases at its school districts since the school year began. However, Lehman says that most of those cases are coming from the outside in. The virus isn’t spreading inside schools to the same degree.

“The schools seem to be doing a pretty good job of keeping kids separating and wearing masks,” Lehman said.

That pitch for the benefits of vaccination comes alongside pushing local and national metrics, data on infection rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, and input from local doctors. Those family physicians have been advocates for vaccination all along, and now will take a role in the outreach part of the plan.

That outreach mission can’t just happen over email and press releases. Both Warren and Washington counties have plenty of rural space, and reaching people takes boots on the ground, and words where they’ll be seen.

“We’re really going to try and use our towns and villages,” said Hardy, on what that outreach looks like in Washington County. “Using our municipal contacts, working with our supervisors and mayors.”

The outreach will also come through local newspapers and radio stations, which reach through the farms and woods in ways broadband internet doesn’t.

And while medical professionals from doctor’s offices and hospitals can give powerful testimony, the most stunning often comes from the people who have chosen to avoid vaccination, and come to regret it.

“Public health hears these stories,” said Lehman in Warren County. “‘I didn’t know it was going to be like this,’ ‘I didn’t know I was going to get this sick.’ I just talked to a gentleman whose wife and child were just hospitalized in the summer, and the wife almost died in her 40s.”

It’s the stories of hospitalization; of long COVID; of the hospital bills that follow; that the counties hope will ultimately change some of the minds that have stayed uncertain for the near-full year since that first New York dose.

“Really, we’re hoping to reach the people on the fence,” said Hardy.

The bi-county campaign will show up in six local newspapers, 10 local radio stations, billboards, bus stops, Adirondack Thunder hockey games and online.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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