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Kern High and Kern Medical seek to vaccinate residents, school by school

The effort to vaccinate eligible Kern high school students — and anyone else in the community who wants a COVID-19 shot — is in full swing.

The Kern High School District and Kern Medical, which already partnered to vaccinate school staffers, have teamed up again. So far Kern Medical has brought its mobile clinics with the Pfizer vaccine to Golden Valley, Foothill and Arvin high schools. On Thursday afternoon, the mobile clinic arrived at the gymnasium at Shafter High School decked out in a Cinco de Mayo theme that Kern County Latino COVID-19 Task Force co-founder Jay Tamsi said represented a celebration of hope.

“We are encouraged and optimistic that by teaming up with county partners to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to our students 16 and older and their families, it is a step in the right direction to safely return our students to school and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Erin Briscoe, a spokeswoman for Kern High School District.

Thursday’s clinic was prepared to vaccinate 200 people, but when it was all said and done, 93 people, mostly students, had received their first dose. That makes it the largest community clinic that Kern Medical has hosted at high schools.

So far Kern Medical vaccinated 58 people at Golden Valley, 80 at Foothill and 50 at Arvin. Next week there is a clinic planned at Mira Monte High School on Tuesday afternoon and North High School on Wednesday morning.

On Thursday, the Shafter High gym looked a lot like other mass vaccination centers around the county, but there were efforts to make the process a little friendlier than usual. And that’s not counting the taco trucks and churros available to all who were vaccinated.

There’s a big emphasis on health education at these clinics, said Renee Villanueva, vice president of ambulatory services at Kern Medical. She said that the vaccine is still relatively new, so a lot of people have questions or concerns. At the clinic, there were nurses on hand to answer students’ questions about how the vaccine works and what to expect. When students go into a private booth, they’re allowed to take all the time they need to ask questions so that they feel comfortable.

“We’re treating them like adults and letting them ask questions in an adult setting,” Villanueva said.

The students who arrived to be vaccinated were sophomores, juniors and seniors. Some of them had returned for in-person learning, which just began this month, and some hadn’t. One athlete got his shot before heading out for practice. Some were accompanied by parents and others had been granted parent permission ahead of time.

Doreen Mejia, like many parents, had already received her vaccination, but she brought her daughter Olivia Guerrero. She described the experience as “hassle-free.” The school texted her and left a voicemail letting her know about the clinic, and she made an appointment for her daughter.

“It was really convenient and we didn’t have to drive far out,” she said.

Mejia said she grew up in the 1960s and remembered going to school to get her vaccines, and the clinic reminded her of that experience.

Transportation has been one of the biggest barriers for those seeking the vaccine, said Jackie Law, clinical director at Kern Medical’s Columbus clinic.

“We try to bring the clinics to them,” Law said. “Typically kids are in schools, and it’s a place they can get to.”

She said Kern Medical has been letting its partners, whether a church or school, set the parameters of its clinics to figure out what is most convenient for the community.

Shafter High’s clinic took place right after the bell rang to catch students getting out of school and it went until 6 p.m. to catch parents and community members getting out of work.

It was a surprisingly busy time when school let out Thursday afternoon. As of this week, freshmen students through seniors have returned to campus and there’s traffic when school lets out. Principal Russell Shipley said that about 26 percent of Shafter’s 1,688 students have opted to return to in-person instruction.

One of those students who returned this week was junior Brisseida Reyes. She said a lot of her friends drove to Bakersfield to get the vaccine already, but she wanted to protect herself as she begins to socialize more.

“We’re teenagers, so we can’t distance ourselves from our friends, so it helps,” said Reyes.

Her mom is glad her daughter is taking part in a process that prevents more hospitalizations in the community. That was a sentiment echoed by others receiving their shots. None expressed serious reservations about the vaccine itself, except for the prick of the needle.

Guerrero, a senior, plans to attend Fresno State in the fall and needs her vaccination to enroll. But she said getting the vaccine was also about the community she’s in right now.

“I feel more comforted and at ease knowing I have something that can protect me and other people around me,” she said.

That sense of comfort in a place like a school is crucial, said Shafter Chamber of Commerce member Morgan Clayton. The city and chamber supported this vaccination effort that he said will help get schools and businesses open.

“It’s a great setting,” Villanueva agreed. “The students are back on campus. We’re making life more normal.”