(AURORA, Colo.) — A group of students at a Colorado high school took matters into their own hands to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their community, turning their school into a vaccine clinic and administering over 800 shots to the public.
Josh Alvarez and Yeabsera Fitsum, students at Rangeview High School in Aurora, wanted to get their friends and family vaccinated and deliberated ideas on how to help during a meeting at the school’s Social Justice club.
Club adviser and teacher Stephanie Walsh reached out to local health officials to find a way to make that dream a reality.
“Here in Colorado, we have a movement called ‘equity clinics’ for communities of color or [communities that are] underserved. So we fell under that umbrella, our school and our community. We just filled out an application and the ball just kept rolling from there,” Walsh told ABC News.
The first vaccine drive was held on May 1 with the Pfizer vaccine for anyone 16 and older, and inoculated 422 members of the community.
Rangeview’s drive wasn’t just any run-of-the-mill vaccination site: Students came out with their entire families, patients received goodie bags with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinks, and music played in the recovery area.
Gov. Jared Polis also attended the school’s opening event and livestreamed the moment Alvarez and Fitsum received their first vaccine shots on opening day.
“It was super nerve-wracking, but mainly exciting. [Polis] was showing us getting vaccinated and asking us questions about why we decided to do it,” Alvarez said. “So being in that spotlight was really special.”
The school held a second vaccine drive on May 22, inoculating 486 people — patients returning for second doses and newcomers eligible for the vaccine as Pfizer had recently approved the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.
The students said holding the vaccine drive at the school helped curb hesitancy among locals and family members.
“I definitely think that it being at Rangeview encouraged more people to get it, just because Rangeview is a space that we all know and love,” Fitsum said. “Whether a student goes here, a family of a student, everyone feels safe with the space that we all know. And it being in a space we all know made us more willing to trust the vaccine and trust that it would be given to protect us.”
Alvarez said hosting the event at his school encouraged his aunt, who was hesitant about the vaccine, to get the shot.
“She was very hesitant to get it because a lot of her friends were like, ‘Maybe this is just something we shouldn’t do,"” he said, noting her son attended Rangeview as well. “We were like, ‘You should come with us because you have to be there for us, you might as well get it done yourself.’ And she got her vaccine. Now she’s super happy because it’s so much less of a worry of, ‘Oh my gosh, what if I catch COVID."”
For the moment, the school, which is now out for summer break, has no plans to hold another vaccine drive but is open to helping out in the future if there’s a need for booster shots.
For those involved, the drive was more than just an opportunity to get the vaccine — it was the first step to returning to pre-pandemic life.
“The vaccine was an important part, but just the reunification of the community after the past the year of isolation … It was nice to see everyone and just see everyone coming together to work for it. A sense of normalcy, hopefully for next year,” Fitsum said.
Alvarez and Fitsum, both rising seniors, want to continue giving back in their future careers. Fitsum said she aspires to pursue a career in international law and diplomacy and Alvarez wants to work in humanities, law or psychology.
State health officials praised the students’ efforts to hold the drive.
“It is encouraging to see young people like those in the Rangeview High Social Justice Club get involved to help bring these effective and life-saving vaccines to their community,” Brandy Emily, the deputy director of the immunization branch of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told ABC News. “We appreciate their on-site volunteer help during the clinic and their enthusiasm for creating this opportunity.”
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