NYC school vaccination sites open, but vaccinating students will be challenging

Local News

MORRISANIA, The Bronx — On Friday, the city government began its major effort to get more preteens and teens vaccinated before school reopens, fully in-person, next academic year.  

The first of a series of on-campus vaccination sites opened in The Bronx, but they ended up showing how challenging getting large numbers of young people vaccinated might become.  

The vaccinations took place at three different public schools in The Bronx, but the marquee vaccination event was at The Writing Academy here.  

In the schoolyard, a full on street party was set up, complete with a DJ, video games, ice cream, and a raffle for prizes. At the centerpiece of it all, though, were a group of pop-up tents where vaccines were being administered.  

The city contracted with MetroPlus Health to run the site.  

Its chief brand officer, Lesleigh Irish-Underwood, said that the effort they were making is vital.

“This zip code is one of the 32 that were among the hardest hit in the city,” she said. “We were hearing that there were lots of barriers to getting vaccines, so we thought, ‘let’s make it available at school. Come to the place that you come to every day with your child.'”  

Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter was on scene at the Writing Academy schoolyard.  She made clear that the event is part of a larger effort to safely bring all students back in person in the fall. 

“We’re not pushing,” the chancellor said, “but we’re absolutely encouraging our families to get vaccinated.”

On Friday, there were vaccination sites at P.S. 180 in Co-op City, and at J.H.S. 118 in the Belmont section of The Bronx.  

The efforts to get young people vaccinated continue through the weekend and next week.  A full listing of sites is here.

Despite the city’s measures, it’s challenged to increase its numbers. Mayor Bill de Blasio reported earlier this week that 118,000 New Yorkers between 12 and 17 years old had gotten vaccinated.That’s about 23 percent of that demographic, which is higher than the national average of 20 percent for that age group.  

Not everybody is pleased with the numbers, however. A group of protesters were at the Writing Academy site, chanting, “Kids are not lab rats,” and holding up signs critical of the teen and preteen vaccinations.

Mark Szuszkiewicz, a Brooklyn based activist, organized the protest, and came across the city to lead it.

“I think there’s a lot of fear mongering and pressure to get kids vaccinated,” he said in an interview. “It’s not necessary, with the high survival rate and the low risk [for children].”  

But across the street, at the schoolyard event, parents like Jarmal Samuels said that having the free vaccine readily available is a big help.  

“You don’t want to have to worry about your kids,” he said.  “And they’re surrounded by other kids who they come in contact with.”  He said that being able to get his children vaccinated added peace of mind.

One of his daughters, a student at Taft High School, agreed.  “I still want to take the vaccine, just to be safe,” she said.

Another student, Darielys Cordero, 13, agreed, and said that the schoolyard vaccination carnival was a great way to do it.

“It helps kids my age to not feel scared,” she said, “and feel like they’re supported.”

The support comes at a price.  Foul weather caused the schoolyard event to close early, but it got a total of 92 people vaccinated, over the course of five and-a-half hours.  

About a half million students are in New York City public schools in 7th to 12th grade.  Friday’s vaccination numbers show that the effort has a long way to go in order to have a majority of students vaccinated in time for fall classes to begin.

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