COVID-19 Vaccine is a Shot of Hope for Our Schools

January 28, 2021

Opinion: COVID-19 vaccine is a shot of hope for our schools

By Laura Mitchell
Opinion contributor

Has hope arrived? In a word, yes. Exuberantly, gratefully, yes.

After nearly a year of waiting, this marks the week that hope has finally arrived for our educators, our students and our community.

Beginning Thursday, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) staff will be the first school employees in the state of Ohio to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It will be administered by the Cincinnati Health Department over a multiweek period, until all staff who want to be vaccinated have received both doses.

This vaccine is a shot of hope that paves the way for an eventual safe return to full-time, in-person learning for more than 35,000 students in our city. CPS is honored to lead the path forward.

Teachers, principals, and school staff continue to heroically work to keep students learning and engaged during distance and blended learning. But, as we have all come to appreciate more than ever, there is no substitute for being in person, with a teacher in the classroom, five days per week.

The vaccine opens a new chapter in the COVID-19 fight after a 10-month whirlwind for our students, staff and families. With this in mind, I will be rolling up my sleeve this week and joining our employees in receiving the vaccine. I believe it is important to walk the talk, and I know I cannot ask our staff to step forward and be vaccinated if I am not willing to do the same.

Many Americans, especially the African American community, are wary. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that one-third of African American adults "probably or definitely" won’t get vaccinated.

As an African American leader in Cincinnati, I understand the hesitation. There is a history of social injustice and inequity as it relates to many social institutions. Health care is no exception. However, the facts show us that these vaccines not only keep individuals healthy, they also help keep communities healthy.

COVID-19 has hit Cincinnati’s African American neighborhoods especially hard, including those in which many of our families reside. The highest death rates have been reported in Westwood, Avondale and Hartwell, according to the Cincinnati Health Department.

"Although the effects of COVID-19 on the health of racial and ethnic minority groups are still emerging, current data suggest that Black and Latino communities bear a disproportionate burden of the illnesses and deaths due to COVID-19," according to a letter from the Urban League to Congress last week.

As a result, CPS is taking the lead to educate our staff and our families about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. Earlier this week, CPS hosted an online information session for our staff to learn more about the vaccine, with Dr. O’dell Owens, chief executive officer of Interact for Health, leading the discussion and answering questions.

I urge church and business leaders, community organizers and local elected officials to do the same and organize information sessions about the vaccine with your congregation, employees or constituents.

Together, we must build a pro-vaccine social norm throughout our city, and especially in communities of color. We must have these conversations, through formal settings and at our kitchen tables. And we must use facts.

The pandemic may not be over, but the arrival of the vaccine is a shot of hope for our schools, our students, our neighborhoods and our community.

Laura Mitchell is superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools

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