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ST. LOUIS – The clock is ticking for checking off one of the most essential items on the back-to-school list: a COVID-19 vaccination.

Pediatricians at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in south St. Louis say parents need to act now to begin the process of getting their children fully vaccinated against COVID before school starts.

Many school districts in the St. Louis region start in-person classes in mid-to-late August. That means students aged 12 to 17 have until about mid-July to get their first shot.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the current vaccination rate for people 12 to 17 years of age in the state is about 16%. In St. Louis County, about 25% of teenagers are fully vaccinated. It takes five weeks to be fully vaccinated with the Pfizer dose, the only FDA-approved vaccine for that age group.

“The vaccine is very effecting in children. In fact, it appears to be even more effective than in adults and it has a very high safety profile,” Dr. Rachel Charney, emergency medicine pediatrician at Cardinal Glennon, said.

Charney says if a school has a mask-optional policy, there is an increased chance of an unvaccinated child getting COVID or placed in quarantine.