The U.S. Department of Health is rolling out its "We Can Do This" COVID-19 education campaign ahead of the schoolyear, hoping to increase the vaccination rate among children by educating parents in trusted spaces, and the library is becoming a critical location in the effort.
Dr. Cameron Webb, a senior advisor on the White House’s COVID-19 team, was a special guest for Thursday’s story time at Hyattsville's Library. He shared more than a book with families.
“Back-to-school is right around the corner, so we want families, we want everybody to have their best protection,” he said.
While vaccination rates for children 6 months to 5 years old are the lowest of any age group with 3% vaccinated, Webb hopes parents will step up before little ones reenter school and day care.
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“We want to make sure that everybody has that protection against COVID-19, but it’s coming at a time where a lot of people are processing how they look at the pandemic differently.
In Hyattsville, one of the most diverse communities in Prince George's County, it was clear early on that the approach to accessing the vaccine had to be different.
“We were the community that was hardest struck in the region, yet we were the last to receive testing and the last to receive vaccines,” Prince George’s County Council member Deni Taveras said.
The county's libraries stepped in to help improve access.
“We would receive a phone call, and a customer would say, ‘I’m an undocumented immigrant. I’m having trouble getting through to the vaccine clinic. They’re telling me I can’t get a vaccine,’” Prince George's County Memorial Library System acting co-CEO Nicholas A. Brown said. “And we would tell them exactly what to say. Get on the phone with the vaccine provider to clarify what the policies are. And it was that level of library-to-family connection that helped people get to these resources really quickly.”
Thursday’s clinic reminded how libraries have pivoted, becoming more than just a place to check out books.
“They have a such a nice space for children, so I think it's really great that they tied those two together to offer the vaccine to the community while having children's events here,” mother Jillian Campbell said.
Parents said they are adjusting to the new reality and the back-to-school list is changing.
“School is starting September or Aug. 22, and he needs to get vaccinated, so we are really, really glad that it’s being offered over here,” mother Grace Burrell said.
It was only a one-day clinic, but the public library is open to share information on where to find other clinics like it by calling local branches during library business hours.
The American Library Association is working alongside the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to launch similar campaigns around the country.