Dozens of Milwaukee Public Schools families bundled up outside Escuela Fratney one afternoon this week, getting their spots in line more than a half hour before the opening of a pop-up vaccination clinic at the school.
Surpassing expectations for the clinic, 273 students and adults got COVID vaccines Thursday — more than the Milwaukee Health Department had ever seen at a MPS-based vaccine clinic.
"I think families want to make sure they're safe and do their part," superintendent Keith Posley said.
In a city that has significantly lagged the state in vaccinating its youngest residents, the clinic turnout was a sign that the interest is there, if the infrastructure can keep up.
City officials announced Friday a lineup of 22 more vaccine clinics in MPS schools around the city, beginning Wednesday. (See the list below)
In the city of Milwaukee, as of Thursday, about 9% of children ages 5-11 were fully vaccinated, compared to 17% statewide. Additionally, 42% of Milwaukeeans ages 12-19 were fully vaccinated, compared with over 52% statewide.
Once hesitant, more families turn to vaccine for protection
Escuela Fratney principal Sara Cruz said they were expecting 15 to 100 to turn out for the clinic Thursday, but more than 100 had already lined up in the first hour of the three-hour clinic.
"People are starting to take it more seriously," Cruz said.
Inside, father Chia Thao said he decided to get his three kids vaccinated and get his own booster after seeing cases rise close to him, and losing his own uncle to COVID.
"I don't want to take that risk," Thao said, as his children waited for their first shots. "Better safe than sorry."
Thao, like others in line, said since deciding to get the children vaccinated, he'd had a hard time finding appointments. The medical center where he'd gotten his own first vaccine was booked up. He was glad to get the email from MPS about the clinic.
Shawntianna Acevedo, waiting with her three kids who attend Escuela Fratney, said she used to be opposed to vaccinating them as she worried there would be side effects. But with cases ticking up around her, she decided it was the safer move.
"It is good for them to have it," Acevedo said. "It's good to protect them in the long run."
Vaccinations have helped many of those testing positive for COVID be able to recover at home without hospitalization. Hospital officials have said most of the patients requiring hospitalization are not vaccinated.
A national study of teens ages 12-18, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the Pfizer vaccine was 94% effective against hospitalization and 98% effective against hospitalization in intensive care units. Out of 180 teenage patients in ICUs at 31 hospitals studied, only two were fully vaccinated. All seven who died were unvaccinated.
Jaime Gollmer-Pulliam, waiting with her daughter Sophia for her second shot, said they'd waited a little while to get the first because of her daughter's nervousness with getting shots. But they wanted the protection offered by the vaccine.
"We want to keep her safe when she's at school, and we don't want her to pass it on to her grandparents or anyone else in the house," she said.
Asked how the first shot had gone, Gollmer-Pulliam said it was "a little bit not great" as Sophia shook her head and hid her face against her mom's leg. They'd gone to a pharmacy the first time, and were hoping for a more kid-friendly experience at the school clinic. They had also had trouble finding openings.
Schools set to reopen Tuesday
School and health officials have stressed vaccinations as the top strategy to limit severe illness and spread of COVID to prevent further school closures.
Milwaukee Public Schools are scheduled to return to in-person learning Tuesday following two weeks of virtual learning as hundreds of staff tested positive for COVID.
MPS reported 741 staff members and 360 students tested positive the week of Jan. 3 —a total more than double any prior weekly count this school year.
In addition to promoting vaccination, the MPS School Board has called on city officials to help reduce community spread by reinstating a mask mandate for all buildings and events open to the public. The Common Council could consider such a measure Tuesday.
MPS administrators also said they were working to increase the supply of masks before students return. They said last week they'd placed orders for 682,400 child-sized KN95 masks and over 1.3 million adult KN95 masks.
MPS is also continuing to provide testing opportunities, though it's unclear how many families have consented to testing. MPS nurse Christine Scott said at one of her schools, just five out of 400 students had provided consent.
A spokesman for MPS said the district could not currently provide information about how many students had consented to testing.
Find a clinic
The Milwaukee Health Department will be running vaccine clinics, free and open to the public, at MPS schools on the following dates.
Each location has clinics three weeks apart, the recommended waiting period between first and second shots of Pfizer. They are also offering booster shots and flu shots.
Wednesdays, Jan. 19 and Feb. 9, 1-4 p.m.: Alexander Mitchell Integrated Arts School, 1728 S. 23rd St.
Thursdays, Jan. 20 and Feb. 10, 2-5 p.m.: Morse Middle School For the Gifted and Talented, 6700 N. 80th St.
Fridays, Jan. 21 and Feb. 11, 1-4 p.m.: Clement J Zablocki School, 1016 W Oklahoma Ave.
Mondays, Jan. 24 and Feb. 14, 1-4 p.m.: Grant Gordon Learning Center, 921 W. Meinecke Ave.
Tuesdays, Jan. 25 and Feb. 15, 2-5 p.m.: Hayes Bilingual School, 971 W. Windlake Ave.
Fridays, Jan. 28 and Feb. 18, 1-4 p.m.: Auer Avenue School, 2319 W. Auer Ave.
Mondays, Jan. 31 and Feb. 21, 1-4 p.m.: Clarke Street School, 2816 W. Clarke St.
Thursdays, Feb. 3 and Feb. 24, 1-4 p.m.: Jackson Early Childhood and Elementary School, 2121 W. Hadley St.
Fridays, Feb. 4 and Feb. 25, 2-5 p.m.: Starms Discovery School, 2035 N. 25th St.
Mondays, Feb. 7 and Feb. 28, 1-4 p.m.: Longfellow School, 1021 S. 21st St.
Tuesdays, Feb. 8 and March 1, 1-4 p.m.: Hopkins-Lloyd Community School, 1503 W. Hopkins St.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee Health Department to host more MPS school vaccine clinics