Allderdice is Taking on the Effort to Vaccinate, with the Help of the Black Student Union

On Friday, October 8, the Black Student Union invited doctors from UPMC Children’s Hospital to speak to classes throughout the day about the COVID-19 vaccine.

(Dice Weekly Update)

On Friday, October 8, the Black Student Union invited doctors from UPMC Children’s Hospital to speak to classes throughout the day about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) is taking on the fight to vaccinate. Originally dubbed “Operation Warp Speed” by the Trump Administration, “fight” is now likely the more accurate word. For months, all across the nation, this “fight” has raged at dining room tables, school board meetings, in the private sector, and in both the national and state legislatures. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine for emergency use authorization nearly a year ago and fully approved it months ago. The science backs up the dangers and potentially life-threatening realities of contracting COVID-19. The science also backs up the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccine. Now schools, many of which are resuming in-person schooling for the first time in over a year, are faced with the same predicament: how to vaccinate to protect students and staff in an era of misinformation and disinformation

Michele Halloran, social studies teacher and Black Student Union sponsor, says, “It [vaccinating] is a constant, uphill battle, especially when prominent figures come out and spread disinformation about the disease and vaccines… having fellow students speak out and having medical professionals come and speak is so incredibly important. If kids begin to understand that it isn’t just a small group of people getting vaccinated but rather millions and millions, including their friends, they may see the value in getting it themselves and possibly encouraging other friends or family members to do so as well.”

On October 14 and November 4, in conjunction with UPMC, the PPS held a “vaccine blitz”  to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to students and staff. The Allderdice vaccine clinic took place in the cafeteria from 7:30-8:30 am on both days. The clinic was open to staff as well as students. A parent or guardian consent form was required for students to receive a vaccine. Although registration was preferred, it was not required. Much of the eligible Allderdice staff received their “booster” shot. 

When the BSU heard of the then-upcoming vaccine clinic, they realized they were in a unique position to help. Halloran says, “Our kids are respected, and it is our hope that by getting vaccinated themselves and sponsoring these types of events, they will encourage others to get vaccinated as well.”

After the sponsors presented the idea of aiding the vaccination effort, the student-led organization decided to hand out gift cards to students receiving their first dose of the vaccine. They advertised the incentive leading up to the clinic. The money used to purchase the gift cards came from the BSU’s funds. Carrie Dunton, a senior and member of the BSU, says that the nation has seen success in providing financial incentives to the COVID-19 vaccine. They attempted to emulate that effort. 

Dunton adds, “Any students that had questions [about the COVID-19 vaccine], we [the BSU] made sure that they were always able to ask them and we always had somebody to answer them.” 

On Friday, October 8, the week prior to the first vaccination clinic, the BSU invited doctors from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to speak to classes throughout the day. Halloran explains, “We hoped that by bringing in some doctors from a variety of backgrounds who had worked with teenagers and smaller kids that students would ask questions about the vaccines. There is a great deal of disinformation about the vaccines, and we wanted to provide professionals who could give medical information that wasn’t filtered through social media.”

Taylor Allderdice High School principal, Dr. James McCoy, wrote in an email to families, “Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a key step to keeping our schools open and our community safe and healthy… we certainly encourage any of our students that have not been vaccinated to take part in this [vaccine clinic] opportunity.” 

Halloran echoes this sentiment. “It is going to have to be a community effort in order to protect our entire Allderdice community from COVID. She continues, “We understand the hesitation in the Black community based on issues that have happened historically in this country, which is why it is on all of us to try and set the record straight now and rely on medical professionals to provide information for us.”

McCoy responded to The Foreword’s questions, writing that he is not provided with the information of the percentage of vaccinated students nor the amount of students and/or teachers who received the vaccine at both clinics. He estimates, however, “that the strong majority of the staff is fully vaccinated”.