Eddie, a confident young man of 16, stepped up and was soon rolling up his sleeve and making small talk with the nurse who would be giving him his COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Eddie’s family had made it through the pandemic, but he told me that other friends’ families had not. “I wish we could have had this last year…” he shared, his eyes drifting off. Eddie was ready to be immunized and had been talking about it with his friends for weeks. They were all there today, parental releases in hand, and eager for their lives to get back to normal.
I was at Broadmoor Senior High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with the health team from Children’s Health Fund partner Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Parents and children arrived steadily and were welcomed by the clinical team, given a quick screening, and cleared for receiving the vaccine. Meanwhile, a health educator from Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health, Adrian Brumfield, was streaming live on Facebook, promoting vaccine access and letting everyone know that the free clinic would be open until 2 p.m., no appointment needed.
This was my first time in Baton Rouge since early 2020, before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and I was visiting our partner program that was formed during the initial disaster response to Hurricane Katrina. For years, their expertise in providing high-quality, culturally-sensitive care has filled an essential gap for children who live in under-resourced neighborhoods that lack medical services throughout Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish. The program has become a trusted health-information and service source for local residents. And this work has only increased since the onset of the pandemic.
Recently, they’ve led a heroic effort promoting vaccine confidence and access. With outreach to school clinics and more, they are helping to ensure children and their communities are protected.
At another site, Louisiana Key Academy, Deron was one of dozens of kids who were waiting patiently for their turn to take their shot. Under the direction of Nurse Vanessa, the team was mobilized and ready for action: players from the Louisiana National Guard, the school district, city government, the organization Caritas, the private sector, and others were coming together to address both vaccine confidence and access for kids in Baton Rouge. And this was no special clinic—this team mobilizes every weekday to make sure that the fight against COVID-19 will be a winning one.
A soft-spoken boy of 12, Deron was the first of his siblings to step up. Deron’s mom had gotten a flyer from the school that said vaccines were free and available, and he had spoken to his mom that morning, volunteering to be the first sibling to be immunized. With a simple authorization signature, Deron’s mom proudly agreed and here he was, smiling as he and his friends rolled up their sleeves!
It was over in a few seconds and Deron then waited, again with his friends, for the 15 minutes needed to make sure no one had a negative reaction; no one did. While Daron waited, we chatted. He told me he wants to be a part of the National Guard, like the friendly camouflaged team that was helping to administer the vaccines themselves.
As Deron and I spoke, more kids came, more nervous smiles, and a near universal surprised declaration of “That’s it?” once the vaccine was given.
As I was leaving Louisiana Key Academy, I was struck by the many working parts of the vaccine effort at the school and how they are part of something bigger—a true partnership to beat back this pandemic—doing together what no one organization, government agency, school, or company could do alone.
As we round the corner on COVID-19 it’s a lesson we can bring forward—we are all in this together.