By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – As students across the state prepare to go back to school, physicians are offering Alabama parents an opportunity to ask questions and get answers about vaccines, mask wearing and other COVID-19 best practices.
The Medical Association of the State of Alabama on Thursday is hosting a Facebook Live event in which doctors will be discussing the recent resurgence of the virus and what parents can expect as school starts back over the next month. The organization says the goal is to offer reliable medical advice from doctors to parents concerned by misinformation floating around social media.
“Many parents have questions and concerns as their children get ready to start school at the same time COVID infections and hospitalizations are on the rise,” Dr. Aruna Arora, MASA’s president said in a press release. “The Medical Association is pleased to host this event where parents and others can get the accurate and reliable information they need. It’s perfectly normal to have questions, and anyone with questions about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines should talk to a medical doctor.”
The event will start at 4 pm and can be viewed live on the Medical Association’s Facebook page. The public will be able to submit their questions about vaccinating students, masking going forward and how students can protect themselves going back into schools.
Speaking on the panel will be Arora, State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris and Dr. David Kimberlin, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Those who are 12 years and older are currently able to get the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine virtually anywhere in the state with more than 1,400 providers offering vaccines across Alabama right now. The state’s youngest populations, 12-29 year olds, are the least likely to be vaccinated with only 31.6% of that population having gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, according to ADPH.
Harris said on Tuesday that misinformation or the lack of access to information is one of the key reasons for the low vaccination rate in the state and suggests that those who may have questions ask a health provider they trust.
“My number one message to people who are not sure about the vaccine is to please talk to your doctor,” Harris said. “Talk to your healthcare professional that knows you, wherever you go to get medical care or where your children go to get medical care. Please talk to those people, to that man or woman who cares for your family and ask them what you ought to do.”
Harris also said that it is inevitable that there will be COVID-19 outbreaks in schools but if proper masking, vaccinations and social distancing protocols are kept in place, that can minimize disruptions to a student’s school year.
While vaccines are not a requirement for Alabama students to return to school next month, the Alabama State Department of Education is strongly encouraging parents to vaccinate their children if they are able to.
Michael Sibley, director of communications for ALSDE, said the department will be deploying a back-to-school toolkit in coordination with ADPH that provides updated guidance on how schools should approach returning to in-person learning.
“Going forward, we will continue to work collaboratively with ADPH and make decisions based on their guidance,” Sibley told ADN.
Not much guidance will be changed from last year’s toolkit but Harris said requirements for quarantining if a student is considered a close contact will be relaxed.
There is no state-wide mandate for Alabama students to wear masks in schools either, but local officials and school districts are able to enforce their own masking rules. Some school districts in the state have announced mandatory mask policies, including Montgomery County, Birmingham, Huntsville, Bessemer and Opelika.