Schools Weigh Next Steps, Incentivize Student Vaccines As Classroom Mask Mandate Ends

Jun 14, 2021

The latest health guidance from the state says masks are not necessary for vaccinated staff and students in the fall. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Communities across the state are weighing what COVID-19 health and safety measures to continue this summer and into the fall, as the governor's mask requirement for schools expires at the end of June

But while school boards figure out next steps for their buildings, schools are also pushing for – and in some cases incentivizing – more kids to get vaccinated.

In Fort Wayne, a local nonprofit called Super Shot is offering kids a chance to receive $500 for getting vaccinated, with the hopes the group's lottery will get more kids to get their shot.

Executive director Connie Heflin said other states offering incentives are getting results.

"In other states immunization rates have gone up double digits due to incentives," Heflin said. 

READ MORE: Are COVID-19 Vaccines Safe For Kids? Here's What You Need To Know

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According to Heflin, 47 percent of teens older than 16 in Allen County still haven't received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 75 percent of the county's 12- to 15-year-olds have not received their first dose.

Mary Hess is the director of health and wellness at Fort Wayne Community Schools, and said students cannot get the vaccine without a parent's consent

But, Hess said, vaccines are extremely effective and remain a key step to help protect people from COVID-19.

"It's kind of like stacking slices of Swiss cheese, right? No one thing is perfect to keep you safe – you really have to stack multiple strategies together to come up with something that has very few holes," Hess said.

Masks are still required for everyone on school buses, and the latest guidance from the Indiana Department of Health recommends unvaccinated people in schools continue masking and social distancing.

But the state's guidance isn't legally binding, so schools will follow health and safety parameters decided by local leaders starting July 1.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.