From June 2021, seventeen-year-old Terrence receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Booker T. Washington High School after the CDC lowers the eligibility age to 12. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

The NOLA Public Schools district expanded its summer COVID-19 vaccine program on Tuesday to students age 12 and older after the recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine for kids over the age of 12.

At two KIPP New Orleans Schools campuses, a handful of students started the first day of summer school this week by receiving round one of the two-dose vaccine from Ochsner nurses. The district’s COVID-19 Testing Program Coordinator Morgan Ripski was excited about the expansion to include younger students. She said the schools had 40 students signed up.

“The more of this we can do in the summer, the better prepared we are for the fall,” Ripski said.

District Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. has already announced that all schools will return to in-person learning in the fall and he expects students to be on campus. That will differ greatly from the school year that’s ending this month, in which schools had to pivot between in-person and online learning when the virus’ spread increased in the city. Schools won’t be required to offer virtual learning this fall except in rare medical circumstances or during student quarantines.

On Tuesday at Booker T. Washington High School, 17-year-old Terrence received the vaccine in front of a gaggle of reporters and videographers. He didn’t flinch, but some of the younger students were a bit more nervous.

“I’m tired of wearing this mask,” Terrence told reporters when asked what prompted him to get the shot. “I don’t want COVID to affect me or my sister.”

The vaccine program — run in partnership with several local health organizations — brings nurses on-site to provide the Pfizer vaccine to students older than 12 who have parental permission. Ripski said they plan to provide vaccines throughout the summer and into the start of the school year. 

“I think I had 35 campuses sign up and really the only limitation was that 21-day window that you need in between shots,” Ripski said. “So we needed to be able to come at the start of summer school and the end of summer school and have that window.”

For schools with shorter summer programs, Ripski hopes they can provide vaccines at back-to-school events and perhaps provide second shots at the beginning of the school year.

Interested parents and students should get in touch with their school, Ripski said. Students who are 18 and older also have the option to receive the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Pfizer requires two doses. 

“It’s really easy to sign-up, you can sign a consent form online so parents don’t need to be present if their student is getting vaccinated in a school,” Ripski said.

Parents, siblings and neighbors may be able to receive vaccines in schools too — it depends on the site.

“We’re trying to keep these events school-based, but some schools are hosting community events,” Ripski said.

The Living School in eastern New Orleans will have COVID-19 testing (not vaccines) available at its Friday night community event.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...