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High Schools Transform Into Vaccination Sites

April 6, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
Jim Mangia

WASHINGTON – Last Thursday, President Biden announced new vaccine goals of “200 million shots in one hundred days,” and has nearly surpassed that goal with about 154 million shots administered as of this week.

“I know it’s ambitious – twice our original goal – but no other country in the world has even come close, not even close, to what we’re doing,” Biden said last week during his first press conference at the White House.

In January, a letter from the Council of Great City Schools, which represents large school districts across the U.S., was sent to Biden to address the, “12,000 school buildings in every major city in the nation that could be utilized as vaccination sites, rather than relying on centralized sites or hospitals that are sparsely located.”

Now, to achieve vaccine goals, states like Arizona are looking to high schools to serve as vaccination sites for families.

“The vision is high schools have large parking lots, gyms, good WiFi infrastructure, and know how to run events. So, high schools become the dispensing pods for entire cities—for us, entire counties,” said Dr. Chad Gestson, the superintendent for the Phoenix Union High School District.

Gestson saw an opportunity to “cast a vision for the whole county,” by opening up four of the high schools in the district as vaccination “pods” for distributing shots. 

“Not only are we hosting but we are organizing ourselves. Our employees and volunteers help with security doing check in, school nurses take care of the observation site, volunteers do registration and check in,” stated Gestson.

The Phoenix Union High School district has already administered about 20,000 vaccines from various locations.

In other states, like California, efforts to transform high schools into vaccination sites are underway.  

“On Tuesday, April 6, we will be opening two school based vaccination sites in most underserved, under-resourced communities and those hit hardest by COVID-19,” said Jim Mangia, president and CEO of the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center.

Los Angeles County Unified School Districts in South and East L.A. will partner with St. John’s Well Child and Family Center to provide and administer doses from two high school sites— Abraham Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles, and George Washington Preparatory School in South Los Angeles.

“In the first week, we should administer 400 shots a day, and our goal is to get to 600 shots a day,” states Mangia.

In other states like Alaska, the Anchorage School District has already assembled large-scale vaccine events, and by February had already administered 7,394 doses, as reported by Catherine Gewertz from Education Week.

In Tennessee, the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System utilized nurses already working in the schools, and 30 students from a nearby Tennessee College of Applied Technology to vaccinate at least 500 employees a day at high schools, as reported by Keely Quinlan from Clarksville Now.

And in New Hampshire, nearly 35,000 were vaccinated at the parking lot of Exeter High School, according to Jason Schreiber of the New Hampshire Union Leader.

As some of the largest school districts in the country transform high schools into vaccination sites, the question of when all educators and students will be returning to school remains unclear.

In Arizona, schools reopened on March 22, but only one-third of the student body returned to in-person learning, with two-thirds still virtual due to fears of community spread. 

“Yesterday, even though school was in session we did a vaccination event for 500 people in the gymnasium for educators—we won’t let the school day get in the way,” stated Gestson.

“When the time comes, not only will we vaccinate students, but we have offered to do community vaccines until everyone in Phoenix gets vaccinated. We told the county and the public we are in it for the long haul,” stated Gestson.

While adults have been the only ones to receive vaccines, that’s about to change as 16- and 17-year-olds are now approved to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with parental consent. All other vaccines remain authorized for only those 18 and up.

“It’s the same general consent that families give to allow their children to vaccinate at the health centers. If the parent signs a consent form they won’t have to be there while the children are vaccinated, “stated Mangia.

High schoolers will have the option of getting vaccinated right in their own high schools, and Mangia believes this will help resolve issues of access, and help parents build confidence in sending their kids back to school.

“I think two-thirds of families are still concerned about sending their kids back to school, and the only way to do that is to mass vaccinate,” stated Mangia. 

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