OCEAN CITY — Seventeen-year-old Eddie D’Amico hasn’t been inside Ocean City High School, where he is a student, since it shut down last March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic except to take his PSATs this year.
That was, until Tuesday, when he came back to the school for his first COVID-19 vaccine shot.
D’Amico, of Egg Harbor Township, was among the first students and their families to get vaccinated at the school through a partnership with AtlantiCare’s vaccine mega site at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
“I want to lower my risk of getting COVID, and I want to go back to a somewhat sense of normalcy,” he said.
This week, Ocean City and Mainland Regional high schools announced they would be hosting the “mini” mega site at the high school for three days, offering 900 vaccine doses to students 16 and older, and their families.
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“Today’s been really positive,” said AtlantiCare’s director of infection prevention, Gemma Downham, who was at the clinic Tuesday. “(The students) were excited.”
In the first hour of the clinic, about 40 people, including students, were vaccinated, but the rush died down by 3 p.m. The clinic will be open 1 to 6 p.m. through Thursday.
Later this week, Mainland will bus students who are interested in being vaccinated to Ocean City. Ocean City Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said she was reaching out to Cape May County school districts to invite them to send students and families to the high school this week to get a shot as well. Taylor said having the vaccine available now for students is good timing with prom and graduation looming.
The students will be scheduled for their second vaccine just before Memorial Day.
Downham, who has worked with school districts over the past year, including Ocean City, to develop plans to return students to full-time, in-person learning, said getting young people vaccinated is the next important step in fighting the pandemic.
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“We kind of saw an alarming trend this week in the country,” she said, noting that 22% of all new COVID-19 cases nationally were those under 18. At the same time, the number of new COVID cases among those 75 and older, who are more vulnerable to serious cases of the virus, was on the decline.
The elderly make up the majority of those who have been vaccinated. In New Jersey, residents 65 and older make up 33% of the vaccinated population. People ages 16-29 make up only 11% of those vaccinated in the state.
Despite a healthy start and an overwhelming demand for the vaccine over the winter, Gov. Phil Murphy and state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli have noted there has been a drop-off in demand for vaccines. There have been open appointments available daily at state-run mega sites, and many facilities have opened up to walk-ins.
Downham said part of the reason for the drop-off in vaccine rates is vaccine hesitancy.
Statewide, New Jersey is about 70% of the way toward reaching its goal of vaccinating 4.7 million residents in the state by summer. Downham said there is much farther to go in reaching herd immunity, at 75% to 80% of eligible citizens vaccinated against the coronavirus.
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According to the nonprofit COVID Act Now, about 37% of Atlantic County residents have been fully vaccinated, the same as the statewide percentage. In Cape May County, the rate is higher at 43%.
“We really want to try to increase the numbers,” Downham said.
Ocean City is the first school district in the region to partner with AtlantiCare, but there likely will be more.
Senior Jack Bruce, 18, of Upper Township, said he wasn’t planning to get the vaccine so soon but took the opportunity when it presented itself.
“My mom said it was a good idea,” Bruce said.
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After the shot, he said he felt “great.”
Anndalena D’Amico, of Egg Harbor Township, who got vaccinated with her son Tuesday, said that like many others, her family wanted to get the shot, but was nervous about it.
“We both want to feel some layer of protection,” she said. “Nothing is foolproof.”
D’Amico said it was wise for Ocean City to offer the vaccine to students and families because it shows the district has confidence in the vaccines, which will give comfort to those who may be on the fence.
“I hope more districts do it,” she said.