'This is my chance:' Chatham HS students get vaccinated

Posted 4/14/21

Shortly before 10 a.m. last Thursday, Jordan-Matthews senior Jacquelinne Marroquin Tobar drove to Piedmont Health’s Siler City Community Health Center and parked. In the driver’s seat, she rolled …

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'This is my chance:' Chatham HS students get vaccinated

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Shortly before 10 a.m. last Thursday, Jordan-Matthews senior Jacquelinne Marroquin Tobar drove to Piedmont Health’s Siler City Community Health Center and parked. In the driver’s seat, she rolled up her sleeve to finally get vaccinated against COVID-19 after months of waiting her turn.

“(The nurse) was like, ‘Are you ready?’” said Marroquin Tobar, 18. Then she laughed. “‘I’m more than ready,’ I said. I put out my arm. I got the vaccine.”

Two weeks earlier, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that all N.C. residents 16 and older would be eligible to get the vaccine starting April 7 — and Marroquin Tobar, like many other Chatham students, seized the opportunity.

“When I heard that it was available, I was like, ‘This is my chance, and I’m going to make the appointment,” she said. “So I did. ... And I’m really excited. I feel like it was something that I needed to do.”

Since she’s 18, Marroquin Tobar could receive the Moderna vaccine. For some students, however, that’s just not an option. Of all three vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S., only the Pfizer vaccine may be administered to 16- and 17-year-olds — and few locations inside Chatham offer that vaccine, forcing some students to look outside the county.

Since early March, 128 teenagers aged 16 and 17 in Chatham have been partially vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccinations dashboard as of Tuesday.

Jordan-Matthews senior Kevin Manzanarez, 17, ended up getting vaccinated March 28 at the Four Seasons Mall in Greensboro. As a restaurant worker, Manzanarez qualified for Group 3 for vaccinations, but previously thought only those 18 and older could get vaccinated.

“It was important for me to get vaccinated because I work in fast food restaurants and some people still don’t wear masks or really much do anything to prevent the spread,” he said. “Even though it’s been more than a year, I was tired of being scared to go to work.”

Tyler Rhinehardt, sophomore at Northwood High School, was vaccinated two days after her 16th birthday. The Chatham providers offering the Pfizer vaccine were limited, but she eventually found an appointment at the Walgreens in Siler City.

“I think that people my age should get the COVID shot,” she said. “I hope they will. I feel safer and want others to be safe too.”

In Chatham, most high schoolers have attended school in-person on a hybrid schedule since February, and more will move to in-person learning four times a week this month. Even so, Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek said the CCPHD doesn’t have any “definitive plans” for vaccination events focused on students.

“(We) have been working closely with schools throughout the pandemic and also during vaccination efforts and will continue to encourage all who are eligible, including students, to get vaccinated,” Zelek told the News + Record. “A limiting factor is that only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16- and 17-year-olds, and to date we have only gotten the Moderna vaccine.”

Chatham County Schools Public Relations Coordinator John McCann also told the News + Record that CCS doesn’t currently have plans to assist with student vaccination appointments or clinics.

‘I want to protect my teachers’

A large part of Marroquin Tobar’s reasons behind getting vaccinated, she said, is to protect her parents — and return the favor. Her parents already got their first doses.

“I feel like I would feel very selfish if I would have, like, not done it because I’m always thinking about my parents,” she said. “They already got their first doses, so they’re taking care of themselves. They’re protecting themselves, and when I had the chance to do the same for them, I didn’t blink. I just said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do it.’”

But that’s not the only reason she wanted to get vaccinated as soon as possible. On April 19, CCS students like Marroquin Tobar will have the option to return to in-person learning four times a week under Plan A.

“It’s not going to be remote anymore,” she said, “so I want to protect my teachers and classmates.”

Manzanarez noted the return to more in-person school as motivation for getting vaccinated, too.

“Since school will be reopening this week at full capacity I feel like being fully vaccinated I am at a huge advantage,” he said.

Only a few of Manzanarez’s friends have gotten their first dose of the vaccine, he said, and they’ve experienced similar symptoms as him — a sore arm and a minor headache. Some of his friends are reluctant to take the vaccine due to how quickly it was developed, and are worried about potential long-term side effects.

Marroquin Tobar has seen some of her friends hesitate. She said she thinks parent opinions about the vaccine greatly influence their children’s opinions about getting vaccinated. Health messaging motivated her to get a vaccine, she said, along with thinking of those who currently don’t have access to the vaccine — like her family in Guatemala.

Many news reports show that U.S. vaccine distribution is inequitable to marginalized communities, but the country’s overall vaccination rates are much higher than many others. Residents of wealthy and middle-income countries had received about 90% of the 400 million vaccines delivered by mid-March, according to a report by The New York Times.

“I feel pretty blessed to have the opportunity to get the vaccine,” said Marroquin Tobar, who emigrated from Guatemala with her parents a couple years ago. “... And I’ve talked with my family over there, and the situation is getting worse every day. They are not able to get a vaccine.”

She hopes everyone will do their part to get vaccinated and protect others — especially, she said, because she’s tired of masks and wants to have a normal college experience. A year of COVID-19 has been brutal and sad for many people who have lost loved ones to the virus, she added.

That’s why she hopes people will consider them when deciding whether to get vaccinated.

“They’re not my loved ones, but they are people and they are neighbors, and they are people who have families and children. They’re uncles. They are parents. So I’m thinking about them,” she said. “I don’t want to be selfish, and I know that God will take care of us. I believe and the scientists — I believe in them; they are doing their best, and we should do our part.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan. Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com



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