NEWS

High school vaccination campaign kicks off in Cranston

In reflection of broader trend, number of students registering for shots runs below projections

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 5/5/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Turnout didn't reach the level officials had anticipated, but well over 100 students received their initial dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 shot Monday as Cranston played host to the state's first high school vaccination clinic. "After

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NEWS

High school vaccination campaign kicks off in Cranston

In reflection of broader trend, number of students registering for shots runs below projections

Posted

Turnout didn’t reach the level officials had anticipated, but well over 100 students received their initial dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 shot Monday as Cranston played host to the state’s first high school vaccination clinic.

“After this year, it just seems like the logical thing that we would offer [vaccination] to kids, after all the stuff that we’ve been through … it’s another step in the COVID journey here that we’re making,” Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse said toward the end of the clinic, which was held in Cranston High School East’s gymnasium.

Based on projections from the Rhode Island Department of Health, local officials had been prepared to administer as many as 900 shots during the clinic, which was open to children 16 years of age or older – a group that includes some sophomores, as well as juniors and seniors.

Nota-Masse said a large contingent of school administrators were on hand “to facilitate and make sure kids were OK and supported and felt good.” She also praised the city’s Fire Department, which is managing the high school clinics, as “amazing,” adding: “They’ve been great partners in this.”

Ultimately, about 130 doses were requested based on the number of registrations for the clinic. Deputy Fire Chief Paul Casey, the city’s emergency management director, said it’s unclear what is behind the lower-than-expected demand – whether it is a function of students already being vaccinated, other factors like vaccine hesitancy, or some combination. The drop in demand, he noted, has been seen across the state of late.

Regardless, with dozens more students set to be vaccinated at Cranston High School West on Wednesday – nearly 100 as of Monday, with another day left to register – Casey said the high school clinics have provided an important service.

“That’s the whole mission here, is to bring the vaccine to make it as accessible to everybody as we can,” he said.

Casey said the Fire Department brings “a ton of experience” in overseeing vaccination clinics to the high school effort, with its personnel having worked a regional pod in East Greenwich in addition to overseeing the city’s clinic at the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center, which served older residents and educators earlier this year.

In terms of ensuring all doses are utilized at day’s end, he said, the protocol remains the same – find an arm in which to put any unused shot.

But the underlying circumstances have changed significantly. There are far fewer arms that are unvaccinated or seeking a shot. And he remembers that in February, doses and related supplies were extremely tight. Now, he said, both are “very plentiful.”

Nota-Masse said the district heard from a number of parents that their children had already been vaccinated starting in April, when eligibility expanded to include all residents age 16 and older in a number of hard-hit ZIP codes – a group that included 02910 and 02920 in Cranston. Another ZIP code that covers part of the city, 02905, had been open to expanded eligibility even earlier.

Tom Barbieri, principal at Cranston West, said he, too, sees that early eligibility as a key factor in the lower sign-ups for the high school clinics. He noted that his own child has already been fully vaccinated as a result of that prior access.

Like Casey, Barbieri said the high school clinics still represent a valuable resource for the community.

“As an administrator, we’re not only responsible for the education of a child, but to make sure the child is safe and healthy. And this is one of the ways that we can help guarantee it through the school,” he said.

He added: “What better way to feel comfortable than, instead of walking into a clinic or a big warehouse, you come into your own school and get a vaccination? So it’s a comfort level for kids, and hopefully families.”

Cranston East’s school-based clinic was the first of its kind in the state to administer vaccinations – all the Pfizer offering, which is the only vaccine thus far to be approved for people as young as 16 – but a number of schools in other communities will soon follow. Johnston, Barrington and North Kingstown were among the towns set to kick off their own school vaccination efforts this week.

Nota-Masse said the district has followed state law, which allows for students 16 or older to consent to medical procedures – including vaccination – without any parental authorization. A Rhode Island Department of Education FAQ on the school-based clinics also outlines that portion of state law.

Students who received their first dose this week at East and West will receive their second shot during the week of May 24. Students at the New England Laborers’/Cranston Public Schools Construction & Career Academy were able to schedule shots at either the East or West clinics, with transportation provided.

Mayor Ken Hopkins was an early advocate for a school-based vaccination effort. On April 6, he called on state officials to pursue a “more aggressive approach to vaccinating our students” as part of an effort to ensure events such as proms and graduations could go on this spring.

“With many important milestones approaching such as prom and graduation, I am pleased that this program will help our students safely participate in their once in a lifetime high school experiences,” the mayor said in a statement last week. “The vaccination clinics at both Cranston high schools will provide a convenient way for our seniors to be vaccinated if they choose to do so. This is a big step towards safety and normalcy within our schools.”

The weeks since Hopkins’s initial call have seen a significant change in the dynamic when it comes to the vaccine rollout in Rhode Island. As Fire Chief James Warren put it Monday: “The supply is outpacing the demand … Two weeks ago, three weeks ago, it was the other way around.”

During last week’s statewide COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Dan McKee said his administration will work with schools across the state to expand vaccine access to those 16 and older.

“Any high school that is interested in having us on site, we will make sure that happens,” he said.

Soon, there may be an opportunity for further expansion of student vaccination. Federal health officials are expected to soon authorize the use of Pfizer’s vaccine for children 12 years of age and older.

On Monday, Cranston East Principal Sean Kelly and Barbieri said their schools will both hold outdoor proms and graduation ceremonies during the week of June 7. As has been the case throughout the pandemic, details are being finalized and remain subject to change based on Rhode Island’s standing and related state guidance.

“We’re still working on what the restrictions are going to be. We’re taking the guidance as it comes,” Kelly said.

He added: “Our students have been out of school in some form or fashion since last March. It’s great that we’re able to do something like this for the graduating seniors.”

Barbieri likened the school-based vaccination push – and the broader improvement in Rhode Island’s COVID-19 picture – to the arrival of the smell of spring in the air. “Maybe this is coming to a point,” he said, “where we have control now.”

Like Kelly, Nota-Masse and the rest of the school community, Barbieri said he looks forward to once again being more consistently in the presence of Cranston’s students.

“You get your energy from them … That’s why we’re in the profession,” he said.

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