Now that 16-and-17-year-olds in Illinois are eligible for the coronavirus shot, officials at Evanston Township High School are hoping to have a mass vaccination event at the school.

District 202 board member Pat Maunsell noted Monday night that “at least half of our students are eligible.”

Superintendent Eric Witherspoon told the board Monday night that “we want to do it, we have initiated conversations” with the City of Evanston and its health department, but he also added “I would be surprised if we get it in the near future.”

While anyone over age 16 is now eligible for the vaccine, there are several reasons why an ETHS event may be off in the distance. First of all, only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16-and-17-year-olds, which reduces the available supply for teenagers. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots are for age 18 and above.

Plus, the Evanston health department is vaccinating residents from older to younger. Right now they’re on 60 plus, so vaccines for teenagers do not appear imminent.

Board member Gretchen Livingston said the entire vaccine process has been a mystery. Two hundred Northwestern students were able to get COVID shots Saturday night into early Sunday morning. Excess doses were about to expire, and the university set up a last-minute “use it or lose it” clinic.

“It strikes me again that the distribution has been far from logical or coherent,” Livingston said. “That seemed like a really strange way to distribute vaccine.”

Those college students were 18 and over. If 16-and-17-year-olds don’t want to wait for the Evanston process to play out, they can sign up for shots at mass vaccination sites run by the state of Illinois, or at pharmacies.

Plus, District 202 leaders expressed optimism that the Biden administration is speeding up vaccine distribution. Board member Monique Parsons said “that gives me hope that it will come sooner than we think.”

In the meantime, some ETHS students return to the building Wednesday for the first time in more than a year of pandemic-related remote learning. The high school begins its hybrid plan, with about half of the 3,600 students having at least some in-person school, while the others, by choice, are staying on remote learning.

ETHS now has a coronavirus dashboard, on its website. The dashboard shows how many students and staff members have COVID, and how many are in quarantine. It’s important to point out that those with the virus did not necessarily get it at school.

The high school’s on-site health clinic will be available for anyone showing symptoms, although the hope is, of course, that no one who feels sick comes to school.

Those who do go will have to self-assess every day, and report if they feel symptoms. It’s critical that students and staff tell the truth, and stay home if they are sick.

Assistant superintendent Pete Bavis put it this way: “What did we learn from other districts?” We learned that dishonesty closes schools.”

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

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