What started with an email ended with more than 250 Washington Township High School students getting COVID vaccinations on April 23 at an Inspira Health clinic on the campus.
The school district had already sought to help administrators and staff get vaccines. But after Gov. Phil Murphy announced that anyone in the state 16 or older would be eligible for the shots starting April 19, the district turned its efforts to students.
“The (school) superintendent reached out and asked if there was anything we could do to help some of the school’s seniors get vaccinated before their trip to Disney World,” explained Amy Mansue, president and CEO of Inspira Health, about the district’s email query. “This would eliminate the need for quarantining and provide an added layer of safety and comfort for the students and their families.
“Fortunately, the stars aligned,” Mansue continued. “Just a couple of days after that email was sent, the governor issued an executive order allowing health systems to offer off-site vaccination. Our vaccination team then connected with the school leadership to work through the logistics and schedule a vaccine clinic in record time – just nine days.”
After the initial email, when school Principal Jonathan Strout met with Inspira officials, he expected he could set up some appointments for students to get vaccinated at the health network’s medical center. The plan ended up going beyond his expectation.
“At the end of the day, a couple of Inspira leaders did a site visit with some of my administration team and one of our school nurses,” Strout explained. “We decided with the size of our gym, the layout of our school and the size of our student body, (Inspira) would be willing to pull off a plan to vaccinate 1,000 kids.”
To spread the word, Strout relayed a message to parents and students through his weekly Sunday announcements. He informed parents that students ages 16 or 17 needed a consent form filled out and signed by a parent or guardian, and students 18 or older could fill out the forms themselves. After the forms were received, each student got an assigned vaccine appointment time for April 23.
“It is all hands on deck,” Strout said prior to the vaccine event, explaining how EMS members and township police would be on hand for safety.
“Our school administrative team and our custodial team will certainly play a critical role,” he said then. “Our nurses and secretary will be helping with everything from setup to a hospitality room for Inspira staff, to calling parents if there is something not right with the paperwork.
“It is going to come together because we have so many people who are passionate about making sure it happens.”
In person students received shots between 7:20 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. and were sent home. Remote students then had their turns. According to Strout, Inspira Health will be back at the school with a schedule for students who will need to get second doses of the vaccine.
“The vaccine is the single most important variable to getting back to normal,” Strout advised. “It really is the ultimate hope instiller. It doesn’t mean we are going to be reckless. We are going to continue to wear masks and practice CDC guidelines. This is just one more level to help get us closer to normal.”
Mansue said the size of the high school made it an ideal site for Inspira to pilot an on-site vaccination clinic. The health network will take what was learned at the school and apply it to other school districts and community settings moving forward.
“We have learned many lessons during the pandemic, and surely one of the most important is that we are stronger – and can accomplish more – when we work together,” Mansue said. “We are grateful to the Washington Township School District for partnering with us to protect their students.”
Strout is hopeful Inspira will schedule vaccine appointments for students who were unable to get the shot the first time around.