Kalamazoo officials work to improve vaccine access for teens

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Health officials and schools in Kalamazoo County are working to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine for older students who are now eligible.   

Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services is partnering with the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency and local districts to try and reach more students 16 and up. 

The organizations are planning to hold clinics on-site in the next couple of weeks at some schools. 

Health Officer Jim Rutherford says participation from younger age groups is crucial on the path to achieving herd immunity and putting an end to the pandemic. Currently only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for use among 16 and 17-year-olds.  

“We know that we hit the low-lying fruit earlier, those over the age of 65. Sixteen to 64 is gonna be a little bit tougher and, the younger you get, the harder it is to get those people interested in receiving the vaccine,” Rutherford said. 

He says the goal is to make the vaccination process as easy as possible, at a time when scheduling initial appointments is slowing down. 

“Beginning this week, we’ve dropped at least 50 to 60% in terms of the number of people that are signing up for our clinics,” Rutherford said.  

The department has also been setting aside some appointments for students at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center.  

 Portage Central High School senior Calista Richmond received the Pfizer vaccine at the expo center. 

“We were in there 30 minutes, so it was a super simple process for both doses and I’ve been feeling perfectly fine after both doses,” Richmond said. 

She plays lacrosse and says having the vaccine provides piece of mind for herself and the other players on the field. 

“It does like give you that feeling of security, you know, you’re doing the right thing for yourself for your community,” Richmond said. “Helping to stop the spread.”

Tom Zahrt, an assistant superintendent with KRESA, says there are perks of being vaccinated beyond public health. 

“They will not necessarily have to quarantine if they’re exposed to someone with symptoms or with the virus, and so that does allow them to continue to learn, that does allow them to continue to participate in those extracurricular activities,” Zahrt said. 

The partnership is looking for solution to better address the barriers students face in getting the vaccine, including transportation issues. 

“We’re looking at what day of the week would work best for them, we’re looking at what locations would look best for them, we’re looking at what communication will help them feel comfortable,” Zahrt said. 

Rutherford says the department is seeing the virus having a more significant impact on younger generations in recent months. 

“We’re seeing more hospitalizations for younger individuals between the ages of 16 and 40,” Rutherford said.  

He expects the Pfizer vaccine to be approved for people 12 to 15-years-old sometime this summer, and says the department is also prepared to assist with the rollout to that population.

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