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To Head Off COVID-19 Surge, Peoria County Bringing Shots To Teens In Schools

Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio
Brant Adreon, right, receives the first COVID-19 vaccine dose in the Dunlap High School library, where OSF HealthCare set up a clinic on Thursday, April 29, 2021.

COVID-19 vaccination clinics began this week in several Peoria County school districts. But the uptake varies significantly by community.

Amid rising case counts among younger people, Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson says she wanted to get the Pfizer vaccine to teens as quickly as possible. So her office worked with the region's two major health care systems to set up in-school clinics.

"It's again coming back to convenience. Your kids are in their school, it's easy, it's a group you can catch quickly," she said. "It also makes it easier for families to get their kids protected."

UnityPoint Health is holding clinics for Peoria students, while OSF HealthCare is hosting clinics for students in Elmwood, Princeville, and Dunlap.

Ninety-nine Pfizer vaccines were administered Thursday to students at Dunlap High School. Brant Adreon, 16, received one of them. He said many of his peers are "uninformed" about the dangers COVID-19 poses to them.

"I think everyone's a little laid back, and isn't taking things as seriously as possible to get that vaccine," Adreon said.

Adreon, a cross-country athlete, said he also frequently comes into contact with people at his job at an area car wash, and he wanted to protect his family from the coronavirus by getting vaccinated.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds must get parental permission to get vaccinated, while 18-year-olds can elect to get vaccinated on their own. Only the Pfizer vaccine is currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people younger than 18.

Elizabeth McDonald, also 16, is a Dunlap sophomore.

"I just want the sense of normalcy back in life. I want to be able to see my extended family and friends and not have to worry about affecting them," she said. "And I just want to get back to as much normal as I can with my life."

McDonald said she's looking forward to eating in restaurants and going to the movies again after she's fully vaccinated.

Not as many Peoria Public Schools students are taking advantage of the vaccination clinics, however. Andrea Parker, the Executive Director of the Hult Center for Health Living, said just 18 teens were vaccinated over the last two days, though those were half-days.

"We're hoping that word of mouth does alleviate some of those fears that students have, and that they encourage their classmates and their peers to receive the vaccine," said Parker. "So yeah, we're disappointed, but we're not surprised. We work in a high-risk population across the community, so we hope our students understand the necessaryness of having a vaccine."

Hendrickson said she considers getting even one person immunized a success.

"When you say 18, you might think of it as a low number. I think of it as 18 additional individuals that are vaccinated," she said. "We were really focused on making sure we wasted no vaccine. And now I think it's, we leave no arm untouched."

Most of those who end up with severe COVID-19 cases are unvaccinated. Peoria County Regional Superintendent Beth Crider said the strategy to head off the surge is to make it simple for teens to obtain information about the vaccine -- and make it easy to get a shot.

"Primary care physicians have really stepped up, and we're getting them in that way. We're hosting clinics right in the schools, so you don't have to go anywhere. And then just promoting good quality information about a vaccine and what it does," Crider said.

Hendrickson said parents and families in different districts may need to be engaged repeatedly to reinforce the message about getting vaccinated.

"In Peoria Public [Schools], they've had two half days. This doesn't mean it's going to end here. They're going to continue this operation for a while to grow momentum. Other schools, it's a one and done," she said. "Maybe based on socioeconomics, they have easier access to other health care services. So the models have to mimic what the populations they serve need."

The Tri-County area reported 187 new COVID-19 cases and five additional deaths on Thursday. That brings the region to 43,493 cases and 653 deaths recorded since the pandemic began.

Those who died include four Tazewell County men ranging in age from their 50s to their 70s, and a Peoria County woman in her 70s residing at Cornerstone.

A total of 133 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 in a local hospital, including 43 in the ICU. That's down 10 patients from the previous day.

COVID-19 in Tri-County
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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.