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Virginia school revisits its history as a polio vaccine trailblazer with COVID clinic

Franklin Sherman Elementary made history as the first school to administer the polio vaccine to its students in 1954 — a fact that First Lady Jill Biden embraced on Monday as she visited the school's COVID-19 vaccination clinic to encourage pediatric vaccinations for children ages 5-11 years old.

Biden joined U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy in a visit to the McLean, Va., learning center. Their appearance followed the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week that young children get a low dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Biden, herself an educator, attended the event as part of a nationwide effort to get the nation's eligible children vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Children are less susceptible to serious infection from the virus — which is responsible already for the deaths of more than 750,000 Americans— but still stand the risk of hospitalization or even death from the disease. Children can also contract the virus and pass it along to more vulnerable populations.

Biden was introduced by a sixth-grader at the school named Everett, who espoused the importance of vaccines as well as vaccine incentives, which he said should include ice cream for everyone who gets the jab.

In her remarks, Biden noted the many steps that parents take every day to keep their children safe, like cutting grapes in half to minimize choking hazards.

"Parents, we do everything we can to protect our kids," she said.

"The president and I know how difficult this pandemic has been for your kids and your families. And I'm here today because we care about you and your beautiful children," she said, encouraging parents to vaccinate their children ages 5 and older.

First lady Jill Biden delivers remarks with children who were just vaccinated at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School on Monday in McLean, Va.
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images
Getty Images
First lady Jill Biden delivers remarks with children who were just vaccinated at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School on Monday in McLean, Va.

In a press release announcing the first lady's visit, Fairfax County Public School hailed the school's history and the "Polio Pioneers" who broke ground as the first healthy children in the nation to get the polio vaccine.

"Now, 67 years later, First Lady Jill Biden is scheduled to visit Franklin Sherman ES on Monday, Nov. 8 in a nod to history as part of a nationwide effort to encourage pediatric COVID-19 vaccination. Biden's visit follows the deaths of more than 5 million people around the world from the virus, including more than 750,000 Americans and more than 1,200 Fairfax County residents," the county said.

The statement said that the school's sixth-graders had been learning about the role their elementary school had played in polio's eradication.

"We read articles about the polio vaccine, the history of Franklin Sherman Elementary, and they were tasked with creating public service posters to encourage healthy activities during the pandemic," the statement quoted Romona Wright, a sixth-grade teacher at Franklin Sherman. "A couple of students have said this is just like polio, the pandemic we are going through now."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise joined WAMU in September 2018 as the 2018-2020 Audion Reporting Fellow for Guns & America. Selected as one of 10 recipients nationwide of the Audion Reporting Fellowship, Alana works in the WAMU newsroom as part of a national reporting project and is spending two years focusing on the impact of guns in the Washington region.
Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.