Students eager to put pandemic behind them get COVID vaccinations at school

April 28, 2021
Stall High School student Sebastian Gutierrez gets a COVID-19 vaccine.
Like a lot of us, he can't bear to watch. But Sebastian Gutierrez is happy to have received his first COVID-19 shot. Photos by Sarah Pack

R.B. Stall High School junior Sebastian Gutierrez sat in the stands of the school gymnasium in North Charleston, waiting for 15 minutes to make sure he didn’t have a problematic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine he’d just received.

Sebastian has been attending school virtually during the pandemic as a precaution. He sees the vaccine as his shot at a normal senior year. “I felt like it was necessary to have this in order to go back.”

Sebastian’s mother, Vanessa Coronado, drove him to school for the shot. She and her husband have already been vaccinated, and she was relieved that her son was able to follow suit. “When the vaccines first came out, I was hesitant, but I’m just ready to get back to normal, you know?”

MUSC clinical pharmacist Joseph Xavier reconstitutes the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine to give to students at R.B. Stall High School. 
MUSC clinical pharmacist Joseph Xavier reconstitutes the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for students at Stall High School.

Sebastian was one of about 60 students at Stall who signed up to get the Pfizer vaccine. It’s the only one currently approved for people as young as 16.

Ellen Nitz, director of nursing for the Charleston County School District, knows 60 is not a lot of students for a school with hundreds of eligible teenagers. But it’s a start, she said.

“The way we are looking at it is for each shot we get into an arm, that’s a victory. We're trying to remove all the barriers. You don't have to worry about transportation. There's no financial responsibility with it. It's a convenient way to be able to make sure that students are protected.”

Stall is one of eight Charleston County high schools working with MUSC Health to vaccinate eligible students whose parents give permission. Allison Eckard, M.D., division chief for Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, told news reporters at the school that student vaccinations are an important step toward moving away from the pandemic.

Dorien Jenkins-Hall gets a COVID-19 vaccine at Stall High School. 
Dorien Jenkins-Hall hopes getting the COVID-19 vaccine will mean more freedom.

“I'm really hoping that with media coverage and getting the word out, that we will see more and more students registering throughout the week. Maybe if they don't do it this week, there are plenty of opportunities everywhere around the state, probably close to their home to get vaccinated as well. So we really are hoping that this will start driving up the numbers of students who are vaccinated.”

Eckard said community rates of COVID-19 are still high, even though they’ve come down since the holidays. “It is very important for everyone who's eligible to be vaccinated. Many of the teenagers and young adults are driving up our numbers, and the more people that we can get vaccinated in that age group, the better off we'll be in the long run.”

Tenth-grader Dorien Jenkins-Hall's dad encouraged him to get vaccinated. “I had to get some motivation from him,” Dorien said, pointing to his father as they sat together during the 15-minute wait after Dorien's shot. “But I want to go out instead of being inside all day.”

Eckard called the vaccine very safe. “I have no concerns about safety in 99% of people. There are very few people who have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines who may not get the vaccine because of that concern. But otherwise, it is generally safe for everybody.”

Sebastian, the junior eager to return to in-person classes, said the shot wasn’t a big deal. “It’s quick. Not painful or anything, you know?”

But he wasn’t surprised to see a relatively small turnout for the vaccine at his school. It’s early days for teenagers like him. “As time goes on, people will get more and more comfortable.”

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