As the CDC has stated, the COVID-19 pandemic has largely become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. As long as there are unvaccinated individuals, the highly contagious and highly transmissible Delta variant will continue to spread throughout the community, and new variants will continue to emerge.

In order to stop the spread of this deadly virus, we must encourage everyone we know to get vaccinated, including children who are 12 years of age and older!

Some of you may remember the polio epidemic when we were vaccinated in school by school nurses. The process was efficient, effective, and a demonstration of the important role that school nurses played during that epidemic.

We all agree that kids need to return to in-person school, but we must make it as safe as possible for them to do so. That means promoting vaccinations; making vaccines easily accessible before school starts; dispelling the myths and misinformation about vaccines; continuing to wear a mask (at least indoors) for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals; and following all California Department of Public Health guidelines to mitigate this fourth pandemic surge.

The City of Irvine is receiving $56 million in federal funding to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Shouldn’t we invest a portion of those federal funds to establish our own Public Health Office in Irvine? And shouldn’t we do what so many other cities across the nation have done this past year — hire more school nurses so that our City reaches the national recommended standard of one school nurse per school? (Right now, we have about half the number of school nurses necessary to meet this standard.)

While the Tustin Unified School District (TUSD), which operates four schools in Irvine, is systematically providing parents with information about vaccines for age-eligible children, the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) does not appear to be communicating this same information.

Fortunately, a remarkable group of high school students is taking on a leadership role when it comes to getting our kids vaccinated. This teen-led group (AdvoHealth) is doing their part to get age-eligible children (12-17) in Irvine vaccinated before the new school year begins.

AdvoHealth organized an outstanding webinar on July 19th. It featured a past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics-Orange County, Eric Ball, MD, and Orange County Health Care Agency Deputy Health Officer, Regina Chimsio-Kwange.

The AdvoHealth webinar included detailed information from the CDC, the California Department of Public Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and UCI to inform Irvine students and parents that the most successful strategy to return to school and sports as quickly (and safely) as possible is to get children vaccinated right now. (To view the webinar, click here.)

With the work and dedication of these talented students, I am hopeful that AdvoHealth will be able to help dramatically increase the number of vaccinated children in Irvine. That will make our local schools — and our entire Irvine community — safer!

Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH