MARIETTA — As 13-year-old Kennedy Coleman stood in line to receive her first COVID-19 vaccine at Marietta High School on Thursday morning, she admitted she was a little nervous.
“People tell me it hurts afterwards,” the rising Marietta Middle eighth grader said.
But, Kennedy noted, she’s been waiting for her opportunity to get the shot. She’d been feeling unsafe to go into public or be in large groups before.
Lacresia Couser, Kennedy’s mother, said she’s fully vaccinated and was excited to see her daughter receive her first shot. Couser said she’d kept Kennedy at home for virtual school through the end of the year, out of fear of the virus.
“Today I’m excited, because now that she’s been at home doing virtual for a year, I think I feel more confident with allowing her to go back to the school setting in the fall,” she said.
Couser also said she’d been working to convince other reluctant family members to get their shots so they can all comfortably attend family functions again.
She described as “awesome” the district’s vaccination clinic and continued commitment to provide vaccination opportunities for families and staff.
300 registered for 12 and up vaccination clinic
The district announced last month that it would host a vaccine clinic at the high school in partnership with Poole’s Pharmacy in Marietta for students 12 and up, their families and district staff. District officials said Thursday morning they expected to administer around 300 Pfizer vaccines, the only shots so far approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in people as young as 12.
Those who registered for the Thursday clinic signed in at the front entrance to the school, headed to a small gym for their vaccinations and then a larger one for observation for about 15 minutes before they were cleared to leave. Marietta Fire paramedics and school nurses stood by in the observation area to assist, should anyone have a reaction or feel ill.
Lockheed Elementary School kindergarten paraprofessional Autumn Riley said she felt she could be one of those people. Riley said she was hesitant to get the vaccine when it first became available for staff in March.
She said she has a history of feeling ill “for months” after receiving vaccines, such as the flu shot, but “I’d like to move on with life — travel — so if getting the shot is going to help, then I’ll take the risk.” She also said she’ll likely continue to wear her mask at least through next year.
Riley said she tends to shy away from vaccines and try to use natural alternatives to keeping herself healthy. But as in-person meetings have begun to return and mask mandates have begun to relax in school buildings, especially with the recent announcement that they’ll be optional beginning June 7, she opted to get the shot.
“I know a lot of people, especially teachers, we work directly with students,” she said, adding that she teaches summer school. “We’re with kids, eight hours, nine hours out of the day, so it helps just to minimize (the risk).”
Rising eighth grader Addison Moreland said she felt no fear, just a sense of relief, as she approached one of the 20 private pods made of PVC pipe and curtains where Poole’s pharmacists were administering vaccines in one of the high school’s gyms.
Adriane Moreland, Addison’s mother, said when she received the email from the Marietta district that shots would be available for students ages 12 and up, she jumped at the opportunity for Addison.
“She’s Type 1 diabetic, so we wanted her to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Moreland said, adding that she’d already been fully vaccinated through the county.
And after closing her eyes briefly as she received her poke in the arm, Addison gave her review:
“It wasn’t bad,” she said.
Clinics a ‘community effort’
Marietta Schools has partnered with Poole’s Pharmacy for other vaccine clinics — for staff beginning in March, and then for students ages 16 and up, beginning in April — and through Thursday afternoon had vaccinated nearly 2,600 people, according to Superintendent Grant Rivera.
“Our commitment has been to provide safe and convenient vaccinations for our community, especially those who may not be able to get elsewhere to get it,” Rivera said. “And I think, particularly for our 12- to 15-year-olds, our schools are a safe and familiar place. So if they are concerned about getting a shot, hopefully in some small way, seeing their school nurse and seeing others in a place that’s comfortable and familiar with them, help ease some of that anxiety.”
While Rivera said he believed whether to get the vaccine is a “personal decision,” he said the district should “actively work toward making our schools safer.”
“In Marietta, we’re not going to sit back and wait for somebody else to make our schools safer when we reopen in the fall,” he said, adding that the district will continue to partner with Poole’s Pharmacy to help expedite community vaccinations as more ages become eligible.
Thomas Sherrer, pharmacist and co-owner of Poole’s, said the school district has made a partnership with his business far easier by helping smooth out the logistics of the vaccination clinics. The district began planning for vaccination events in January, he said, and was able to vaccinate more than 900 staff and teachers in March and April, in addition to 450 or more of their family members. In April and May, the partnership resulted in more than 800 students ages 16 and up, as well as their family members, receiving shots. Thursday brought 303 more people receiving a first vaccination, he said.
“We wouldn’t have been able to get this large volume through without their help,” Sherrer said of the school district.
Sherrer said future clinics for younger students are likely as more vaccines are approved for younger ages. Pfizer, for example, is seeking an emergency use authorization from the FDA for use of its vaccine in ages 2 and up.
Moderna is currently seeking an emergency use authorization from the FDA for ages 12 and up. Sherrer said he hadn’t heard any changes to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine being used only for ages 18 and up.
Pfizer’s request for emergency use in younger children could come in September or October, Sherrer said, at which point the district and pharmacy would begin coordinating again to set up a clinic.
“We’ve got it kind of like a well-oiled machine right now. It just makes sense,” he said. “It’s a community effort, and ... we just want the schools back to normal, because once the schools get back to normal, I think everything else trickles (down), getting back to the ‘new normal’ or what normal is in this day and age.”
Both Sherrer and Rivera said the clinics have been a community effort. Rivera pointed out, for example, that maintenance workers built Thursday’s vaccination pods to give students and families privacy, and school nurses volunteered to work the clinic outside of their contractual obligations.
“Everyone in this community has come together to prioritize two things: One, access to vaccines ... and then, two, being proactive in making our schools safer in the fall,” Rivera said.
Cobb County School District officials did not respond to request for comment by deadline on Thursday on whether the district has plans to offer student vaccinations. However, Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told the MDJ last week that his district was exploring its options for student vaccinations, but no solid plans had yet been made.