Education, Health, News

Atlanta Public Schools, Fulton County Team Up To Close The ‘Vaccination Gap’

DeShaun Brightwell (left), an eighth grader at Young Middle School, gets her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine this week.
DeShaun Brightwell (left), an eighth grader at Young Middle School, gets her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine this week.
Credit Atlanta Public Schools
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Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County officials have teamed up to offer COVID-19 vaccines at APS middle and high schools this week. Before the inoculation effort began, APS said about 18% of eligible students and 58% of staff were fully vaccinated. The district estimated it had administered about 200 shots as of Thursday morning.

Abraham Anthony teaches theater at Young Middle School. He got his first shot on campus Thursday. He said he resisted the vaccine for a long time.

“There were so many negative things in the media about it and so many positive … I didn’t know what to believe,” he said. “Then, I started to do the research for myself, and seeing family members that actually took it, it just allowed me to be a little bit more at ease.”

Anthony said he’s lost five family members to COVID-19, which also affected his decision to get the shot. He said he talks to his students about getting vaccinated but doesn’t push them to do so.

“I talked to my students more about safety and to make sure they’re aware of what’s going on, that they’re susceptible to this new strain, that we’re all putting ourselves and each other at risk,” he said. “So, we do all of the safety precautions in class.”

DeShaun Brightwell, an eighth-grader at Young, also got her first jab at school Thursday.

“It was something that I wanted, but then it was also something that I was kind of iffy about,” she said. “I guess just [because of] the media saying all of these things, saying why you shouldn’t get it. But then, there are also several reasons why you should get it.”

APS requires students and staff to wear masks, practice social distancing when possible and encourages frequent handwashing. Vaccines are optional right now, but Superintendent Lisa Herring said if Covid conditions don’t improve, the district could consider mandating the shots.

“If we find that the numbers have not risen to a point in which we feel that we’ve done enough, then exploration of that would certainly be on the table for us,” Herring said.

Herring said the district has a responsibility to protect younger students who can’t get vaccinated yet.

At a press conference Thursday, others spoke to vaccine hesitancy within the broader population. Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts said Atlanta has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the county.

“While the white and Black populations of Fulton County residents are virtually identical — that’s a fact — it’s also a fact that 90,000 fewer Black residents have been vaccinated. That’s why this partnership with APS to help us close the vaccination gap is … so important.”

APS school board chair Jason Esteves said the issue has been politicized.

“The focus is on whose political ideology motivates them to get the vaccine and whose doesn’t … but what we’re ignoring is that vaccine hesitancy in the Black and brown community is real.”

Esteves said APS can’t change the anti-vaccine narrative on its own and urged community members to have conversations with people they know about the safety of vaccines.

A note of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.