Picture a high school gymnasium or a local community center, set up to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to large numbers of high school students 16 and older. Masked students wait in line, chatting with each other, smiling under their masks, and sharing TikTok videos on their phones.
They register with volunteers at computer stations, provide paperwork signed by a parent or guardian, answer a few questions, then sit down at a table with a paramedic, a pharmacist, or a nurse who administers a vaccine and then places the used syringe in a red sharps container while each student waits the required 15 minutes.
This process repeats hundreds of times over one to two days, providing hundreds of students with a pathway to immunity from COVID-19 and the hope that the worst aspects of the pandemic isolation will be ending.
Six weeks later, picture these same students, now fully immunized and re-engaging in teen-age life. Some students may be attending high school classrooms safely, learning chemistry, pre-calculus, and world history inside a school rather than from a computer screen at a kitchen table or in a dark bedroom.
Other students might be sitting in the stands at a school softball game eating snacks and cheering for their team, safely hanging out together at a friend’s home, eating dinner with a grandparent not seen in a year or even driving with a parent on a road trip to visit colleges.
Picture hundreds or thousands of teens starting to emerge from the toughest pandemic restrictions, enjoying activities that were once part of normal life again after more than a year of separation, isolation, and lack of engagement.
Imagine groups of young people being lifted out of the fog of collective depression and anxiety and transported to a hybrid life of safety and community, a place where they can begin to thrive again.
Some large Chicago suburban high schools have been able to envision the roll-out of mass vaccination events that would provide students with immunity and hope and help them safely reengage in activities. New Trier, Deerfield, and Highland Park High Schools have all held student vaccination events in the past few weeks, immunizing hundreds of students.
Evanston Township High School has not revealed any plans to hold similar mass vaccination events. Recent email exchanges with several physician members of the newly formed medical advisory group requesting information on a mass vaccination event have been at best opaque, and no information about any attempts to plan an event have been forthcoming.
Why has Evanston Township High School failed to provide this opportunity to its students? A failure of vision? Perhaps.
Vaccination events are easy to organize. The Chicago area now has ample vaccines, the State has allowed all residents 16 and over access to a vaccine, and volunteer vaccine groups have sprung up throughout Cook and Lake Counties.
Large and small health departments, clinics, and hospitals have organized vaccine events, as have smaller religious and community groups. It takes work and organization to plan and carry out an event, and it also takes vision and inspiration.
So far, no one in the ETHS leadership, including the medical advisory group, has laid out plans for a mass vaccine event. Students would benefit from the easing of restrictions, our community would benefit from the increase in residents becoming immune to COVID-19, and many families would likely welcome the opportunity for a teen-age son or daughter to easily obtain a vaccine, but the leadership at ETHS has not organized a vaccine event.
ETHS administrators and medical advisors: Could you work together to organize a mass vaccination event similar to the ones held at nearby high schools in the very near future? An event providing immunity from COVID-19 to large groups of eligible teens is a win-win for these students, their families, and the community. And some forward-thinking, positive vision.
By Sarah Lovinger, M.A., M.D.