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‘Should kids get vaccinated?’: Philadelphia students ask questions about COVID-19 vaccine during town hall

Kamau Stanford, chief operating officer for the Philadelphia Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, spoke to students at Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker campus Friday.
Kamau Stanford, chief operating officer for the Philadelphia Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, speaks to students at Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker campus Friday.
Johann Calhoun / Chalkbeat

Speaking Friday to a group of students at Mastery Charter School in West Philadelphia, Kamau Stanford’s message was clear: “Don’t get medical information from your friends. Don’t get medical information from Instagram influencers.”

Stanford, the guest speaker at a vaccine information event held at the charter network’s Shoemaker campus, urged students to look to medical professionals and reputable sources online for information about COVID-19 vaccines. He cited the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, among them.

The Germantown native is a graduate of Central High School, a former 12th grade dean of students at Shoemaker, and the current chief operating officer for the Philadelphia Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium.

He fielded a barrage of questions from a group of socially distanced students. Questions included “What’s the vaccine made of?” and “If you had COVID, can you get vaccinated?”

Stanford emphasized that he’s not a medical doctor, but spoke to students to raise awareness about the vaccine. He explained that Pfizer is the only vaccine currently approved for emergency use in children 12-17.

Unlike the Philadelphia school district, which chose not to offer in-person learning for 10th to 12th graders this school year, Mastery has tried to bring back as many students as possible to its 18 schools across the city. The charter network, which enrolls about 14,000 K-12 students, started hybrid learning back in March and April, meaning students learn in person on some days and at home on others.

Multiple schools in the Mastery network will host vaccination clinics on campus. They will be open to eligible students, their families, and members of the community.

Meaghann Lawson, the principal at Shoemaker, said the event was important for the students because they have been disproportionately affected, with some having contracted the virus. She noted: “Our ability to have them come back in the building and to feel comfortable so that they’re able to be successful is critical.”

Lawson said approximately 40% to 50% of all grades have returned to Shoemaker since the network opened its doors this semester.

Superintendent William Hite of the Philadelphia district said low and declining rates of COVID-19 cases in the city, relaxed pandemic restrictions, growing vaccination rates, and the ability to vaccinate students 12-15 would enable the district to reopen fully in the fall.

“Most importantly, the rate of positive COVID cases within our district has remained well below 1%,” he said, citing rates from in-school testing.

The city’s health department recently suggested that students over the age of 12 consider getting the Pfizer vaccine before returning to school. City officials have yet to announce its policy on face masks for summer and fall sessions.

In Philadelphia, children 12 and up do not need the consent of a parent or guardian to be vaccinated, according to the city’s health department.

Stanford noted a lot of colleges and universities are making it mandatory for on-campus students to get the vaccine. “It doesn’t affect sixth and seventh graders, but for kids who are graduating, it definitely affects them because it determines what their college is going to look like.”

Khaira Nahl, a dean at Mastery Shoemaker, said Friday’s event was beneficial for students.

“They need to know what’s going on,” she said. “I did enjoy the students kind of like asking questions and trying to find out more information on their own. I think the pandemic helped to bring health to the forefront of their minds.”

Stanford’s sister, Dr. Ala Stanford, founded the Philadelphia Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. Community and political leaders have praised her organization for outpacing the city in vaccinating Black residents.

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