While a large majority of Evanston Township High School students are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, data presented Monday night to the District 202 school board shows that 23% are not.

With that in mind, board member Gretchen Livingston raised the idea of requiring COVID shots for students.

The State of Ilinois currently requires such vaccinations for staff, and at ETHS, 96% of employees have received those shots.

While it’s unclear if an individual school district can mandate vaccinations on its own, Livingston said it could happen, because “under state policy, we can mandate more strictly than the state requirements.”

Currently, Illinois mandates vaccinations for mumps, rubella (German measles) and varicella (chicken pox) prior to school enrollment, depending on the child’s grade at time of entry.

Livingston said the option of adding another vaccine locally is “laid out in the state law.” She said she read the code “looking for that bit of information, and that’s the lawyer in me.”

While nobody else on the school board called for a COVID shot requirement, there still was a lot of discussion about how to get more students vaccinated.

Dr. Sharon Robinson, a pediatrician on the ETHS medical advisory board, was one of the first individuals in the area to receive a COVID shot.

She noted that “there is still some vaccine hesitancy among some parents for various reasons,” and said, “It’s difficult to know what to do now because we’ve done just about everything we can do” to get the word out about the importance of COVID vaccines.

Robinson received national publicity when she had her first COVID vaccination in December.

She said “I felt a calling to do something impactful.” And, as a Black woman, Robinson also noted that the vaccination rate for African Americans, which lagged early in the pandemic, has nearly caught up to the rate for white individuals.

Doctors and school board members agreed that student vaccination numbers might actually be higher than currently stated, because some students may not have turned in proof of getting shots.

That may change starting next week, when COVID testing at ETHS will be required for unvaccinated students. The hope is that some already vaccinated youngsters will then finally turn in their documentation so they do not have to be tested.

Evanston does have one of the highest COVID vaccination rates in the nation, both for students and adults.

Robinson said “we have such a wonderful setup here, in a community that really believes in science.”

But as school board vice-president Monique Parsons noted, “being in the Evanston bubble you can become complacent.”

We need to “stay the course,” Parsons said, so COVID cases here do not increase.

And as for convincing the unvaccinated, particularly students, to get shots, Parsons said, “one-on-one conversations can save lives.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.