As students were dismissed Friday from the Ralph M. Atwood Primary School in Oakland, Amelia Lacasse stood with two other women across the road on Heath Street with signs and papers protesting COVID-19 vaccines for children.

Lacasse, a Norway resident who was joined by Melissa Stephens of Oakland and Alicia Collins of Sidney, organized the protest on Facebook to urge parents to practice “informed consent” when it comes to vaccinating their children against COVID-19.

“The shot can’t be undone,” Lacasse said.

The women were objecting as schools across central Maine prepare to host clinics beginning next week to vaccinate hundreds of children against a virus that has killed nearly 750,000 in the U.S. and more than 5 million worldwide. The effort comes as federal agencies recently signed off on an adolescent dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Public health officials say vaccinating children is an important step toward halting the pandemic.

Melissa Stephens, left, of Oakland, Alicia Collins, center, of Sidney, and Amelia Lacasse right, of Norway, protest Friday the planned administering of COVID-19 vaccines to students in public schools in front of Atwood Elementary School on Heath Street in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave approval for the two-dose Pfizer vaccination to be given to children 5 to 11 years old, but waited for the final word from the federal U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, which gave its approval Tuesday. The CDC said children in the age group will only receive one-third of the dose given to adults and teenagers.

Jill Cote said she plans to vaccinate her daughter, who attends Hall-Dale Middle School, but only because she doesn’t want her learning to be impacted any more than it has.

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“I’m not so much uncomfortable with the vaccine as the hypocrisy of it all,” she said. “It’s a false sense of security.”

Cote said she’s concerned that children who are vaccinated might still become infected by the virus and transmit it, which federal health officials say is possible — referring to so-called breakthrough cases — but unlikely.

Cote’s daughter contracted the virus in May and Cote says at this point she just wants her daughter to remain in school with no further disruptions.

MaineGeneral Medical Center, based in Augusta, is working with schools to determine the correct number of Pfizer vaccinations to order, according to spokesperson Joy McKenna, who called it an “ongoing process.”

“We asked for and received an initial order of 600 doses of Pfizer for this age group, which is intended for the school vaccination clinics and the large clinic at the Alfond Center for Health on Nov. 13,” McKenna said. “We are working with the state to get additional doses of vaccination.”

Lacasse said her main concern with vaccinations for children is instances of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle). But there were no cases of myocarditis recorded in Pfizer’s clinical trial for 5- to 11-year-olds and experts say such a side effect is rare and short-lived.

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The CDC acknowledges that cases of myocarditis do occur, especially in male adolescents and young adults. But the agency continues to recommend COVID-19 vaccination.

STUDENTS STAYING IN SCHOOL

Most school districts have held vaccination clinics for students ages 12 to 18. In order for children to be vaccinated they will need a parent to sign off on it. No vaccinations will be given to students without a parent’s permission.

At one of the recent Maine School Administrative District 11 clinics for teenagers, Superintendent Pat Hopkins said only seven students showed up.

“We interpreted it as all the families who want children 12 and up to be vaccinated have already done so,” she said at a school board of directors meeting Thursday. Hopkins said getting all students vaccinated is the first step to possibly getting rid of coronavirus guidelines.

On Nov. 20, the district will host another vaccination clinic for students ages 5 to 11 at the Gardiner fire station. Hopkins and her team decided to hold the clinic on a Saturday with the idea that many parents wouldn’t be working and that they would want to be there when their children get vaccinated.

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Superintendent Jon Moody of Skowhegan-based Regional School Unit 54 said having younger children vaccinated will allow more students to stay in school and fewer students having to quarantine.

“That’s the biggest benefit after the medical benefits, is being able to stay in school,” Moody said.

He said only 56 students out of approximately 2,400 in the district signed up for last spring’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Winslow Superintendent Peter Thiboutot said Thursday that his district is holding a clinic, and he’s received a few responses that were mostly positive.

Winslow’s vaccination clinic will be Nov. 18, with the second dose on Dec. 9 at Winslow Elementary School.

“Several parents learned that other school districts in the area are hosting clinics and asked if  Winslow students would have the same opportunity,” Thiboutot said in an email. “They were pleased to learn that Winslow students would have the same opportunity. One individual emailed information to some members of the board regarding his concerns with the vaccination for this age group.”

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Amelia Lecasse of Norway protests on Friday the administering of COVID-19 vaccines to children in front of Atwood Elementary School on Heath Street in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Regional School Unit 18, based in Oakland, has gathered mixed responses so far to a clinic. Superintendent Carl Gartley said he has heard from excited parents, parents who would rather have their child receive the COVID-19 vaccine from their own doctor, and parents who don’t want their children to receive the vaccine at all.

RSU 18 vaccinations will start next week and children from any school in the district will be able to attend any of the six clinics. They’re planned for Williams Elementary and Atwood Primary in Oakland, China Primary and Middle Schools, the James H. Bean school in Sidney and Belgrade Central School. The school district will provide transportation to the clinics, Gartley said.

OTHER DISTRICT’S PLANS

The Augusta Public Schools sent home permission slips last week for their students to get vaccinated.

The district’s clinic will be through the Augusta Fire Department and EMS services, again, after the departments helped host the district’s other clinics for staff and students 12 to 18 years old. Superintendent Jim Anastasio said in an email he wants to have a clinic starting the week of Nov. 15.

RSU 12 Superintendent Howie Tuttle said he hopes there is enough interest from parents regarding the district’s vaccination clinics. They will be holding two, one on Nov. 18 and the other Nov. 19, and will be working with Lincoln Health to coordinate.

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As of Thursday in the Waterville Public Schools, 54 students had signed up for the vaccination clinic for 5- to 11-year-olds, according to Melanie Lecours, the lead nurse in the district.

“We had a much better return on this than we did on our flu clinic,” Superintendent Eric Haley said.

Waterville will have its first clinic Monday at the Albert S. Hall School and the second on Wednesday at George J. Mitchell School. The district is partnering with MaineGeneral Health, according to Haley. The second doses will be given on Dec. 1 and Dec. 2.

The Winthrop Public Schools will host a clinic Nov. 12 at Winthrop Grade School.

RSU 2 will have multiple vaccination clinics for its students. They’re scheduled for Tuesday at Dresden Elementary School, Marcia Buker Elementary School and Richmond Middle and High School. Hall-Dale Elementary School’s clinic will be on Nov. 15 and Monmouth Memorial and Monmouth Academy’s will be on Nov. 17.

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