Here in Orange County, we are in the midst of another severe surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, even though we have access to remarkably safe and effective vaccines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has largely become a pandemic of the unvaccinated — people who are eligible but, so far, refuse to get vaccinated. These individuals have become vectors of disease for younger children (under 12) who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

Now that the new school year has begun, it is imperative that school leaders and city officials do everything in their power to keep our kids safe. That means complying with public health interventions and mandating that all eligible school employees be vaccinated or repeatedly tested.

We must also maintain and reinforce the other common sense strategies which include: masking, physical distancing, hand-washing protocols, limitations on gatherings, and implementing indoor ventilation recommendations.

My grandson attends school in the Tustin Unified School District (TUSD). The leadership at TUSD, which administers a number of Irvine schools, has been impressive. They have continued to promote testing and vaccinations, and have implemented critical measures to protect the entire school community so that parents can feel better about sending their kids back to school. TUSD has also partnered with Families Together to open a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site at Beckman High School (in Irvine) and at Estock Elementary School (in Tustin).

TUSD also released a terrific video message talking about the importance of keeping our entire community safe. Click here to watch the video.

Unfortunately, the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) has not displayed the same level of leadership. That’s why I am encouraging parents and grandparents to contact your school board members. Tell them that IUSD should follow the lead of TUSD by offering onsite testing and vaccinations.

Together, we must do all that we can to keep our kids in school as safely as possible during the pandemic.

If you have questions about the safety of your child at school, contact your school nurse, who is the experienced school health care professional.

To learn about the anticipated release of a COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 years of age, click here.

Phyllis Agran, MD, MPH