School mandates vaccine for Lower Division students


Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for all eligible students ages five to 11 last Friday, shortly after the FDA and CDC approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for that age group. All students in the Lower Division (LD) will soon be vaccinated. So far, 125 LD students have received their first dose, Head of LD Deena Neuwirth said.

When Kelly announced the mandate for eligible students and faculty in August, he said that a mandate would be likely for younger students following FDA approval. Eligible students must submit proof of vaccination by mid-December to the division’s dean, Kelly wrote in an email to the HM community on November 5.

Consistent with the Upper Division (UD) and Middle Division (MD) mandates, Kelly must approve any exemptions, he wrote. “While each request is different, there is a specific committee charged with handling each type of exemption, with our Director of Medical [Dr. Miriam Levitt] sitting on the committee reviewing applications for medical exemptions.” The committee handles each application on a case-by-case basis, he wrote.

Kelly chose to mandate the vaccine for many reasons, he wrote. “Given the success of the COVID-19 vaccines available to older students and adults, not to mention the medical community’s support of the Pfizer low dose COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to eleven, [a mandate] was only appropriate for a school our size,” he wrote. “The decision to do so is in keeping with the data available about both the ongoing pandemic and the science associated with this latest COVID-19 vaccine, along with a deep understanding of what it continues to take to safely operate a school our size.”

Kelly took multiple factors into account when deciding to mandate the vaccine for all eligible members of the community, he wrote. “The size of our community, the number of zip codes served, the amount of domestic and international travel our families continue to do for business and pleasure, and even the close proximity within which our younger students learn and play are all factored into our decision making,” Kelly wrote. “Of equal importance was hearing from the FDA, CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association, among others, that requiring the shot was the prudent next step.”

Some families have decided to leave the school because of the vaccine mandate, Kelly wrote. “I hope to see the families who did leave back in the future.”

The vaccine mandate will allow the LD and MD to lighten some of their COVID restrictions, Kelly wrote. Asymptomatic students in the LD will no longer need to quarantine once fully vaccinated, and the division may transition to less restrictive co-curricular and athletic activities, he wrote. The vaccination will not affect the cleaning routines and supplemental air filtration in classrooms that have been in place since the return to school last year, he wrote. 

While eligible students can be vaccinated at any site in their area, they have the option to be vaccinated at school, Kelly wrote. With Levitt’s help, the school has secured 300 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which will be available for students on campus, he wrote.

Raj Vaswani P’31 thinks that it is very helpful for the school to offer the vaccine, he said. “They are making it as easy as humanly possible for us to take care of the safety of our kids, so that is very commendable,” he said.

UD math teacher Brianne Gzik P ‘34 opted to vaccinate her son at school as well, she said. “I was originally worried that it would be chaotic and challenging to get him vaccinated, like it was when it first came out for adults, but I am over the moon relieved and grateful that we are offering it here at school,” she said.

“I am thrilled to see the families and students at the Lower Division embrace Dr. Kelly’s mandate for the vaccine,” Neuwirth wrote. “The young students are incredibly proud of themselves for ‘being so brave’ and I couldn’t agree with them more!”

Andrea Olshan ’98 P ‘30, ’31, ’31 and her children were very excited and relieved when the vaccine was approved for children ages 5-11, she said. ““My kids are ecstatic about this. They couldn’t wait to get vaccinated.” 

Olshan thinks it was the right choice for the school to extend the mandate down to LD and ND students who are now eligible, she said. “I think that consistency across the divisions is important,” she said. “This is a world where we’re all mandated to get many vaccines. It’s always been part of what we do in this country.”

Gzik agrees with the mandate as well, she said. “We have been following data and science to protect us from the very beginning and I think we have been very successful,” she said. Thanks to the school’s COVID protocols, Gzik has felt very safe at the school throughout the pandemic and is excited for her son to have the added protection of the vaccine, she said.

Olshan’s kids are eager to return to pre-pandemic socializing and “normal” in-person after school activities, she said. “They’re excited to have after school activities back and all the other in person social activities,” she said. Now that they are vaccinated, Olshan’s children will be able to take part in more indoor in-person programs again, she said.

Vaswani said his daughter is excited to get back to normal as well. His daughter is looking forward to getting her own vaccine card, he said. 

Gzik looks forward to her son having more gatherings with peers, such as birthday parties and playdates, she said. “I sometimes feel sad that younger kids are missing out on a lot of social interactions, which in my opinion are essential for their development.”

Olshan’s children feel hopeful that with vaccination, the school will be able to return to normal, she said. “They’re thrilled and they feel like there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel.”