Let’s praise school and health officials in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties for offering free COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible students this month. It’s the smart thing to do, and it’s the right thing to do.
Students 12 and older just need to show up, no appointment necessary, in Hillsborough this Friday or Saturday. In Pinellas, families should call ahead for an appointment for a shot on June 22-24. Think of it as the smart opening act for the 2021-22 school year. Literally, an inoculation against death and disaster.
As the school year ends across Tampa Bay districts, it’s worth stepping back for a second to take stock. Schools had never in modern times faced such a pandemic — and with so many unknowns. The coronavirus is deeply infectious and almost exclusively borne through the air. The early worries about transmission from surfaces turned out to be overblown, giving way to the “hygiene theater” of deep cleaning that proved unnecessary, although maybe it was good for those classrooms to have a thorough scrubbing anyway. As for the coronavirus, you could have it, not know it and transmit it to others, who might become desperately sick or even die.
In the end, the pragmatists were mostly right. It was good to give students and families the option, but not the requirement, of returning to the classroom. It was good to reopen schools with the proper precautions of masking and social distance. Despite dire predictions, public schools didn’t become morgues in waiting, and the incidence of transmission remained manageably low. In retrospect, a main stumble was forcing teachers to simultaneously run in-person and remote classrooms. It would have been far better to allow teachers to do one or the other. The two teaching environments are just too different, and it’s almost impossible to make them both work at once.
Take a minute to think back on what everyone has endured: an entire year of trying to teach and learn during the worst pandemic in a century. As 2020 dawned, who would have thought that wearing masks, keeping your distance or learning from home would become the new normal for more than a year? Think of all the heartbreak of loved ones sickened or killed by a virus that was a catastrophic mystery — and of all the things we didn’t even know that we didn’t know. Think of the miracle of vaccines going from the lab to the jab in just months. But most important, to make the new school year “normal,” don’t pretend the pandemic is over. It may feel that way, and it’s only natural to want to cut loose a bit and relax after more than a year of hunkering down in fear.
But the only people fully protected are those who are vaccinated, and even then the vaccines aren’t perfect. Yes, the number of infections and deaths have dropped. But a Washington Post analysis shows that among many unvaccinated populations, the rates of infection and death are as bad as they were at the height of the pandemic. In other words, for those who aren’t vaccinated, the pandemic is still boiling along and dangerous. In the next day or two, the number of Americans killed by the pandemic will surpass 600,000. That’s more than the total number of Americans who died in battle in all of wars of the 20th century. And the Florida death total stands at 37,717.
The vaccine is safe and free. For those who want the 2021-22 school year to be a blessed return to normal, vaccination is the key. The free clinics for students start Friday in Hillsborough and June 22 in Pinellas.
Where to go:
In Hillsborough, clinics are scheduled from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and from 9 am. to 3 p.m. Saturday at these high schools:
- Gaither, 16200 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa
- Middleton, 4801 N 22nd St., Tampa
- Newsome, 16550 FishHawk Blvd., Lithia
- Robinson, 6311 S Lois Ave., Tampa
- Sickles, 7950 Gunn Highway, Citrus Park
- Strawberry Crest, 4691 Gallagher Road, Dover
- Wharton, 20150 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa.
In Pinellas, there are three vaccination clinics and families are asked to call 727-824-6931 to make appointments.
- June 22 and July 13 at Largo High, 410 Missouri Ave., Largo.
- June 23 and July 14 at Gibbs High, 850 34th St. S, St. Petersburg.
- June 24 and July 15, Pinellas Park High, 6305 118th Ave. N, Largo.
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