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UMass Chan students team up with Worcester to vaccinate kids against COVID-19

By Susan E.W. Spencer

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

November 08, 2021

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 received final authorization from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 2 and Worcester officials, with the help of UMass Chan Medical School volunteers, have hit the ground running to vaccinate the city’s children. Teams of clinicians and UMass Chan students are fanning out to cover 50 Worcester schools over nine school days, from Nov. 8 through Nov. 19.

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State health officials began distributing pediatric doses of the vaccine,
which are one-third of the dose for adolescents and adults, to more than 500 sites.

Flyers and permission slips were sent to the homes of Worcester Public School students weeks before the rollout of the pediatric-dose vaccine, in anticipation of federal regulators’ authorization, according to Matilde Castiel, MD, associate professor of medicine and commissioner of health and human services for the City of Worcester.

State health officials began distributing pediatric doses of the vaccine, which are one-third of the dose for adolescents and adults, to more than 500 sites including local boards of health, community health centers, pediatricians’ offices, hospitals, retail pharmacies and other locations as soon as regulators acted.

“We don’t anticipate any supply issues,” said Gov. Charlie Baker at a press conference Nov. 4.

Dr. Castiel said the in-school vaccination events are particularly important for reaching members of the Black and Hispanic communities, who have been hit particularly hard with COVID-19 infection and have lower vaccination rates than white and Asian communities. She said roughly 80 percent of Worcester K-12 students are people of color.

The COVID-19 vaccination outreach for younger children builds on an effort to encourage families and adolescents age 12 and older to get vaccinated. A campaign called #PostVaxLife, a partnership between the city and UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center with funding from the CDC, works with diverse youth leaders known as Worcester Youth Vaccine Ambassadors to spread the word about the importance of getting vaccinated.

A #PostVaxLife vaccination event will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the JMAC Brickbox Theatre, 20 Franklin St., Worcester. Individuals 5 and older can receive the Pfizer vaccine. Refreshments, prizes and a photo exhibit by George Annan will be part of the fun. A #PostVaxLife campaign video by 24-year-old Worcester resident Fernando Ponce, highlighting the joy and urgency of vaccination, will also be screened. And participants can see videos and memes of the youths who took part in the Worcester youth COVID-19 vaccine video/meme contest this summer.

The event is sponsored by Worcester State University Latino Education Institute, UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center, the City of Worcester, UMass Chan Medical School and REACH Worcester.

“It’s great to be doing this as a celebration when we give the vaccine,” said Castiel. “The ambassadors talk about why they got the vaccine, why it was important. You know, there are some who will say, ‘My parents are immunodeficient and I wanted to protect them and protect myself,’ and, ‘My dad got really ill with COVID and I want to make sure no one else in my family gets sick.’”

Castiel added that the #PostVaxLife videos, photos and flyers will be distributed to hospitals, health centers and doctors’ offices. She said, “I know physicians are really busy taking care of people with COVID and don’t always have time to bring up the vaccine. But at least if we put the photographs with the message out there, it will keep the conversation going.”

Other upcoming COVID-19 vaccination events include:

  • Vaccine equity walk-in clinics at Worcester Public Library Main Branch, 3 Salem Square, Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. between Nov. 6 and Nov. 27.
  • Disability-friendly “VaxAbilities” COVID-19 vaccine events, to support people with sensory and/or other accommodation needs, Nov. 13 and 14 and Dec. 4 and 5 at the EcoTarium, 222 Harrington Way, Worcester. Those coming for COVID-19 vaccination will receive free admission to the museum. This partnership is led by the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Network including the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at the UMass Chan Medical School, the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston, the Disability Law Center and the Developmental Disabilities Council.
  • Mobile vaccination walk-in clinics:
    • Worcester Senior Center, 128 Providence St., Nov. 19, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
    • Belmont AME Zion Church, 55 Illinois St., Nov. 19, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
    • St. Peter’s Thanksgiving Food Pantry, 929 Main St., Nov. 24, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“We take a lot of things for granted. We realize that we get to go home with our families and prepare a meal and enjoy ourselves at Thanksgiving. Many people don’t have that same opportunity and they also don’t have ready access to vaccines,” said second-year medical student Mina Botros, co-president of the Worcester Free Care Collaborative with fellow Medical School class of 2024 students Tyler Healy and Grant Garcia.

Botros is recruiting UMass Chan students to volunteer as vaccinators or administrative support for the city’s ongoing vaccination efforts. For information about the clinics or to sign up, contact Botros at mina.botros@umassmed.edu.

Related stories on UMass Chan Medical School:
VaxAbilities vaccine clinics underway for people with disabilities and sensory-support needs
UMass Chan students to provide flu and COVID-19 shots at Halloween event on Sunday
Ceremony recognizes volunteers as Worcester’s large-scale vaccination site closes its doors