Philly schools partner with Black Doctors Consortium to get more Black and Latino students vaccinated

A student wearing a blue tee gets a vaccine shot from a nurse wearing gloves.
Sheilah McMillan, right, a nurse supervisor for the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium gives Jeremiah Brooks, a senior at Paul Robeson High School, his booster shot Tuesday inside the school’s gym. (Johann Calhoun / Chalkbeat)

Jeremiah Brooks, a senior at Paul Robeson High School for Human Services in West Philadelphia, waited patiently until his turn to get his COVID-19 vaccine booster Tuesday morning inside the school’s gym.

“I believe it will protect me from the virus,” Brooks said. “My message to other students is to take this vaccine because it will definitely protect them and will slow down COVID so that kids can come back and have a good education instead of learning from a computer screen at their home.”

Brooks was one of dozens of Robeson students Tuesday who got free vaccine and booster shots through a program created by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. The partnership, which also includes the school district and the city’s health department, is pushing to get mostly Black and Latino students from specific geographic locations in Philadelphia vaccinated.

Fifty-six percent of youth between the ages of 12 to 17 in Philadelphia have received at least one dose, as have 32.1% of children aged 5-11. But numbers for African-American and Latino youth are low and need to improve, health officials said.

Dr. Ala Stanford talks to a student after a listening session at Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia Tuesday. (Johann Calhoun / Chalkbeat)

Forty-five percent of Black youth between ages 12 and 17 and 13.8% between the ages of 5 to 11 have received at least one dose. The number is slightly higher for Hispanic young people, with 63% between 12 and 17 receiving one dose and 19.4% between 5 and 11.

Black students make up over half of the district’s population, which stands at 120,000 students.

The consortium, led by Dr. Ala Stanford, has been a key player in helping underserved communities throughout the pandemic. The consortium provided and advocated for greater access to testing, then administered COVID-19 vaccines when they first became available in early 2021 and educated people about their benefits.

Stanford took questions Tuesday inside Robeson’s auditorium from students who are still skeptical about the vaccine. The students were instructed to write questions on cards for Stanford to answer.

“Will the vaccine prevent me from getting COVID?”

“Will you die if you don’t get the vaccine?”

“How do you feel after getting the vaccine shot?”

Stanford told the students they are only eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine and that 97% of hospital patients in Philadelphia are not vaccinated. Vaccines may not prevent students from getting COVID, Stanford said, however it lessens the chance of them getting extremely sick or dying.

“I’m coming to you from a place of being a wife, being a mother, being an educator and being somebody who for the last year put my life on hold to take care of other people and to take care of folks who look like me who don’t always have access to care,” Stanford said.

Another vaccination clinic is scheduled from 2-7 p.m. Thursday at Robeson. More clinics are planned through Feb. 18 and will be available for anyone who is eligible for the vaccine, regardless of affiliation with the schools.

“This is a proactive move to help students, staff, and their families,” said Superintendent William Hite. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting the health and well-being of students and staff has been our top priority. We have been very intentional about listening to the science and the science is very clear – vaccines are a very effective way to mitigate the spread of this virus. So, we welcome the opportunity to partner with Dr. Stanford and help our school communities stay healthy and well.”

Robeson Principal Richard Gordon IV, who last year was named national principal of the year, said he was pleased with the number of students who asked Dr. Stanford questions. The vaccination site attracted around 50 students and staff.

“When you bring a renowned voice on vaccinations and how to combat COVID-19, and that person is somebody who is from Philadelphia, somebody who looks like who we serve everyday, I think that makes a tremendous impact,” Gordon said.

Since returning from winter break, the district has struggled to keep schools open for in-person learning amid a dramatic surge in COVID cases. Many teachers and other staff members were either sick or in quarantine.

After shifting nearly half of its schools to remote learning last week, the Philadelphia district announced Monday that only 15 schools will be virtual this week due to staffing challenges. Last week, 92 schools had shifted to remote learning.

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