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Kids lead the charge as SF schools prepare for vaccinating young children

The Bayview-Hunters Point classroom of 4th and 5th graders was full of students with questions: Do we have to get the vaccine? If we don’t, can we still attend school? And how does the vaccine work?

The adults in the room on Tuesday morning at Malcolm X Academy Elementary School—school Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews and UCSF’s Dr. Daniel Woolridge—directed their answers more to the children’s parents: Get your kids vaccinated.

But by many accounts, kids have been leading the way. Even in San Francisco, with one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, there is some hesitation among parents of 5- to 11-year-olds who became eligible for vaccination this week—but not so much among their offspring.

A student at Malcolm X Academy Elementary School in the Bayview studies their question about the COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds on Nov. 2, 2021. | Photo by Meaghan Mitchell

Cindy Burg, the mother of a 7-year-old student, said her son has been asking about when he can get the vaccine for months.

“I told him last year that they were studying the vaccine in his age group and that he would likely know by the fall if he was getting the shot. Back in August he was already asking me, ‘Is it the fall yet?’”

SFUSD has four clinics located at school sites which will administer the vaccine for 5- to 11-year olds. Families can also book vaccination appointments at Walgreens across the city.

“We’re excited,” said Matthews. “We’ve watched what our 12- to 17-year-olds have done. They got together, spoke with their parents and got vaccinated. Our hope is that we see those same amazing numbers with our 5- to 11-year-olds.”

In San Francisco, more than 95% of kids ages 12 and up are vaccinated.

It may be hard to get to that rate among the younger cohort. Nationally, three in 10 parents said they would definitely not vaccinate their 5- to 11-year-olds, according to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Another three in 10 parents said they would vaccinate their youngest children “right away.”

The FDA clinical trial data showed that the shot was safe for that age group. Side effects were minimal, including fever, headache and fatigue. Advisers to the CDC said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.

But Eduardo Abarca, the father of a 6-year-old SFUSD student who attends school in the Mission District, told Here/Say he will not be vaccinating his son. Abarca did not disclose his own vaccination status.

“What will happen to us as a family, if it’s required or mandated—I don’t know,” he said. “There is not enough data,” he said, adding that he knows dozens of other Latino families in his community who are also hesitant to vaccinate their youngest children.

Matthews, though, said he doesn’t anticipate much pushback from parents.

“There were rallies held in Sacramento,” he said, referencing protests following Gov. Newsom’s upcoming COVID-19 vaccination mandate for eligible K-12 students. “We did not see that in our city.”

Dr. Woolridge is putting his faith in the kids. 

“I can’t tell you how many parents have said they got their kids vaccinated because their child told them they didn’t want anything bad to happen. Kids really are leading the way,” he explained.

Additional reporting by Meaghan Mitchell.

Sophie Bearman can be reached at