SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque Public Schools says 50 students have received shots as part of a pilot program to promote vaccines for teenagers.
State residents aged 16 and up became eligible for the vaccine last week.
The school district plans to drive students to clinics by offering special events starting next week, tapping into its mailing lists and social media, and collaborating with city health officials by continuing to offer extra space for vaccine clinics.
The pilot took place in a district training facility where teachers began receiving vaccines in December. The pilot targeted students at a high school that was shut down by a recent outbreak.
“We started with a small drive for Eldorado (High School), and then we are pushing out to the larger community next week starting Wednesday, ready to get 20,000 youth in the city vaccinated, in the next couple of weeks,” school district COO Gabriella Duran Blakey said.
Albuquerque Public Schools is one of the largest school districts in the country and covers more than one in five K-12 students in New Mexico.
The vaccination effort follows a push to get educators vaccinated last month. Blakely says around 15% of Albuquerque Public Schools staff declined the vaccines while 85% have received one.
“We didn’t think we’d be at this point. We’re really lucky in New Mexico that we have this opportunity to have vaccines for our community, including our youth,” she said.
Parents are required to attend the vaccine clinics in order to sign release forms for 16- or 17-year-olds.
Eldorado High School was closed to in-person learning on Tuesday following four positive COVID-19 tests, the first to be ordered closed since April 6, when the vast majority of New Mexico’s schools opened to in-person learning full-time.
Three more schools announced voluntary closures Wednesday, in Bloomfield and Socorro, after outbreaks that would have required widespread quarantines.
The end of the school year is fast approaching. Many students who attend in person this school year will only have been in the physical classroom for about a month.
A more COVID-19-immune student population could increase the viability of graduation celebrations, extended learning programs and summer school.
Blakey said that it’s important for all community members to get vaccinated and build herd immunity. She said she hopes students will get themselves protection from the virus for whatever plans they have, from working a summer job to going off to college in the fall.
While some experts suggest that herd immunity is reached when around 70% of people have built up natural antibodies or been vaccinated, there is no universally accepted rate.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.