Should teens get vaccinated? These Philly high schoolers say yes, please

From left, Philly Teen Vass student ambassadors Vy Nguyen, Andy Nguyen and Keren Abraham. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

From left, Philly Teen Vass student ambassadors Vy Nguyen, Andy Nguyen and Keren Abraham. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

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With the help of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium (BDCC) and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Policy Lab, a new student-led vaccine collective is hoping to combat vaccine hesitancy in young people — one clinic at a time.

“Many [teens] do not have the facts or any of the education … and so, we need to teach them and educate them, so they feel more comfortable in getting the vaccine,” said Andy Nguyen, a junior at Julia R. Masterman High School and a student ambassador with the group.

Philly Teen Vaxx hosted a vaccine clinic Saturday at Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia. Dedicated to the class of 2021, hundreds of people came to the event seeking the life-saving shots.

From pretzels and water ice to a DJ booth and live performances from some of the students, Saturday’s clinic had a very festive atmosphere.

“They had a lot of lost classroom time, a lot of social isolation. So we really just wanted to acknowledge and celebrate them, as well as promote a healthy and safe ending to their year,” CHOP project manager Sophia Collins said.

In between student performances, Dr. Ala Stanford of BDCC spoke to the socially distanced crowd about the excitement she felt as she began vaccinating young people.

Dr. Ala Stanford, of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, speaks to the audience during a Philly Teen Vaxx clinic in North Philadelphia on May 15, 2021. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)
Dr. Ala Stanford, of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, speaks to the audience during a Philly Teen Vaxx clinic in North Philadelphia on May 15, 2021. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

“And now it’s your turn, now it’s time for my sons to get vaccinated, and as a parent there’s no greater joy than being able to protect your child,” Stanford said to a crowd of applauding parents and children.

Although they aren’t the ones administering the vaccines, 45 Philly Teen Vaxx “ambassadors” drive the organization’s events. Organized by the School District of Philadelphia, the students came together last month, virtually of course, and began strategizing about how to reach their peers.

The Teen Vaxx tagline: “We provide the facts so you can get the vaxx.”

Dr. Barbara Klock is the medical officer for the School District of Philadelphia and she said it only took the teens a couple of weeks to hit the ground running.

“And what they’ve done is worked really hard on social media, in their classrooms and other places to promote vaccination of their peers,” she said. “It’s been really wonderful to see how they collaborate and all the creative ideas they had to get the word out.”

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Keren Abraham is a junior at Philadelphia Academy Charter High School and one of the students tasked with handling their social media outreach. She has seen firsthand how hesitant people are to receive the vaccine.

TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are tools for Keren as she uses the platforms to spread the Teen Vaxx message.

“Our [social media name] is @PhillyTeenVax and we hope that with [social media] we’re able to reach a wider audience,” Keren said.

While many of the student ambassadors already received at least one of their vaccines, a few got shots on Saturday.

One of those ambassadors, Ibtihal Gassen, a junior at Central High School, was nervous as she waited to get vaccinated. But the experience still felt like an “amazing opportunity” to spread an “important” message, she said.

Ibtihal Gassen, a junior at Central High School and a student ambassador with Philly Teen Vaxx, got her first shot at the North Philadelphia clinic on May 15, 2021. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)
Ibtihal Gassen, a junior at Central High School and a student ambassador with Philly Teen Vaxx, got her first shot at the North Philadelphia clinic on May 15, 2021. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

Nina Dilworth, also a junior at Central, and Carmen Sackie, a senior at Lincoln, said they were motivated to volunteer by a sense of responsibility.

“Even though [teens] aren’t in the most danger, it’s really important to take this step to move our community toward a safer state,” Dilworth said.

From left, Philly Teen Vaxx student ambassadors Nina Dilworth and Carmen Sackie. (Kenny Cooper/WHYY)

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color. Sackie said that fact alone inspired her to step up.

The Philly Teen Vaxx ambassadors only began working together a few weeks ago. Yet already, some have learned valuable lessons, they said.

Vy Nguyen is a junior at the Philadelphia High School for Girls. She’s worked with a few organizations before but the stakes had never been as high. She said the experience has taught her skills she will use in her future.

“I learnt how to communicate and network with other people and I learned how to manage and organize a group,” Nguyen said.

Twelve-year-old Journi Phillips was one of the youngest people at Saturday’s event. She waited in line with her mom, butterflies rising in her stomach as she waited for her first shot. The nerves were worth it, she said.

Twelve-year-old Journi Phillips received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Philly Teen Vaxx clinic on May 15, 2021 in North Philadelphia. Her mom Aesha West accompanied her for the appointment.
Twelve-year-old Journi Phillips received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Philly Teen Vaxx clinic on May 15, 2021 in North Philadelphia. Her mom Aesha West accompanied her for the appointment.

She is ready for life to return to normal.

“It’s kind of scary, but at the same time, it’s cool because I get to … go back and socialize with people,” Phillips said.

Philly Teen Vaxx has two more events planned for the near future. The next: a prom-themed event on Tuesday, May 18 at the University of the Sciences, followed by a pep rally event on Thursday, May 20 at Simon Gratz High School.

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