Lewiston High School junior Destiney Graham talks with a young student in November 2021 before taking the student’s temperature during the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Connors Elementary School in Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

LEWISTON — As the school year approaches, local officials and community members are urging parents to get vaccinated and their children as well.

Malik Hall, founder of Teach to Move, in partnership with AK Health and Social Services, will hold a back-to-school event from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 at Kennedy Park to help kids and their families prepare for the start of school, physically and socially. It will feature live music, vaccines and free back-to-school basics.

Any person ages 6 months and older can register to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, both Moderna and Pfizer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that everyone ages 5 years and older get a booster shot and adults 50 years and older and some people 12 years and older who are immunocompromised get two booster shots as soon as they are eligible.

Students can also get free haircuts and braids, as well as new shoes, backpacks and school supplies. The Good Shepard Food Pantry will bring 5,000 pounds of fresh produce for families to take home, according to Hall.

“The back to school concert started because I saw the pain in our community, and that it was not exclusive to anyone,” Hall said. “It hit everyone. I saw my son, who had a joy for school, I watched Zoom almost turn him off.”

For Hall, the event is as much about bringing the community together as it is preparing kids for school.


“We have a responsibility to protect one another,” AK Health Executive Director Abdikhadar Shire said. “Getting vaccinated means we care for our friends, our families, our neighbors, and most importantly, the most vulnerable among us, those who are sick, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised.”

Shire said about 70 people have already preregistered for vaccines, some of which are for the first dose of the primary vaccination series but the majority of which are for booster shots.

He said less than 75% of residents in Lewiston and Auburn have received their first COVID-19 shot.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 71% and 72%, respectively, of residents of Lewiston and Auburn had received at least one dose in their primary vaccination series of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna or one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines as of late June. More than 1,000 residents in each city have yet to receive any COVID vaccine.

As of June, between 65% and 69% of students in Lewiston schools have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Auburn schools, the rate was between 60% and 64%.

“Getting the vaccine and booster is the best thing that you can do to keep transmission rates low in our city’s schools,” Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said. “This pandemic has placed an incredible strain on our school system, and it’s important to keep our community healthy so kids, educators and support staff can safely remain in schools.”


Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Shanna Cox encouraged people to also consider employers and the local economy.

“The ability to work freely, to get to work and to work fully is crucial to so many families who could not stand an absence of five or 10 days in their next paycheck. Likewise, the employers can’t manage without their team.”


Dr. David Baker, a pediatrician at Central Maine Pediatrics in Lewiston, said Thursday that “the frequency of COVID right now is at an extreme low.”

That said, it’s the summer, meaning children are probably spending more time outdoors where airborne viruses, like COVID and other respiratory illnesses, are less likely to spread because of the increased ventilation.

“As soon as school resumes, obviously being indoors with limited ventilation there’s going to be an exchange of infection,” he said.

Now, as is typical most years at the end of the summer and first couple of weeks of the school year, is the calm before the storm.


“It’s an eerie quiet because, like, it’s not very busy,” he said. “But then give it about three or four weeks and then the floodgates open and everyone starts coming in with all their different acquired infections.”

Baker said that while he isn’t too concerned with toddlers and school-age children developing severe illness from COVID, given that most children develop mild symptoms, he is concerned they could infect a member of their household who is immunocompromised or elderly and therefore at a greater risk of severe illness and hospitalization.

The risk of severe illness — from COVID or other respiratory diseases — is not zero, however. That’s why Baker said making sure everyone is up to date with their vaccinations should be at the top of every family’s back-to-school checklist.

This is also a good reminder for children to get their influenza vaccinations as soon as they become available. The U.S. CDC recommends that all people ages 6 months and older get vaccinated against the flu by October at the latest.

Among other ways to prepare for the school year, Baker said it’s important to ensure that children have healthy sleep and eating habits and know how to practice good hygiene, including frequent hand washing and coughing into your elbow. And while schools may not have masking, social distancing or quarantine requirements in place, children should keep their distance if they or someone around them is sick.

He also added that children should stay home from school if they are not feeling well, especially if they have a fever or headaches and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing, runny nose, congestion and sore throat.

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