Freeport School District officials, working in partnership with Northwell Health and Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, acted quickly to make the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine available to Freeport students after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved its use on Nov. 2 for children ages 5 to 11.
“I encourage you to educate yourself about the safety and benefits of the vaccine to make an informed decision,” wrote Schools Superintendent Dr Kishore Kuncham in a Nov. 5 message on the district’s website. “Arm yourself with knowledge. Learn more about the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines. Get all facts you need to know about the Covid-19 vaccines by visiting the New York state vaccine hub.”
A Northwell Health webinar was made available to families of Freeport students Nov. 9. Three days later, the first of three one-day vaccine clinics, called “vaccine pods,” took place at a Mount Sinai South Nassau site in Rockville Centre. Two more pods were held Nov. 18 and 19. Parents could sign up for the pods via links on the district website.
Dr. Helen Kanellopolous, Freeport’s assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services and special education, has seen a great deal of parent interest in the Covid-19 vaccine. “We have received an overwhelming amount of requests from the parents,” Kanellopolous said. “Not only now with the ages 5 to 11, but also last school year when [the CDC] approved 12 and up, we had many parents wanting us to bring the vaccine to the school district.”
Many parents felt more comfortable bringing their children to the familiar ground of the school district rather than a CVS or Walgreens, Kanellopolous said. Northwell Health and Mount Sinai South Nassau both partnered with Freeport Schools to bring vaccinations to the district. On Nov. 22, Northwell Health held a vaccine pod for children ages 5 to 11 in the cafeteria of Freeport High School, and on Nov. 30, Mount Sinai South Nassau will do the same. Parents can register for the pod on the district website.
At the Nov. 22 vaccine pod, administrators registered children as parents brought them up the steps from the rear door of the school cafeteria. A Spanish interpreter assisted any parents who required it. Upon registration, parents and children were taken behind white-cloth partitions on rolling metal frames, where the vaccinations occurred in privacy.
A parent or guardian had to accompany the child, and bring proof that the child was of eligible age, such as a birth certificate or passport.
Lance Brown, a Northwell administrator, said he had been with the Northwell team since the start of the pandemic, helping to bring masks, Covid-19 testing and vaccinations upon request to public venues such as nursing homes, high schools and airports. Brown has had a sense of mission about the work since experiencing his own bout with the coronavirus.
“I got Covid-19 in November 2020,” Brown said. “My eyes hurt the most looking left or right. I spent three days in the dark.” Brown recovered within two weeks, but when the first vaccines became available a few months later, “I was probably one of the first in line for vaccination.”
Watching the children come from behind the partitions to sit at school desks with their parents for 15 minutes to monitor possible reactions to the vaccine, Brown said, “I have hope that this [pandemic] will end. I do have a sense of purpose that this will help historically for humanity. Maybe in the history books, I’ll be a person named who helped end this thing.”
A Freeport parent, Ivania Osorio, sat at a school desk with her son, Byron Lopez-Osorio, 7, after his vaccination.
“I think it [the vaccine] is important,” Osorio said. “Everyone should think about getting it. It’s for everyone’s safety and health.”
“The vaccine is good,” said energetic, quick-moving Byron. “The shot didn’t hurt.”
A brother and sister seated at the desks during their 15-minut observation caught the eye of an administrative nurse, who asked, “Do you need help?”
“Me and my brother are bored,” the sister said. The nurse played Simple Simon with them until their 15-minute observations were up.
Kanellopolous spoke with appreciation of the district’s partnerships with Northwell Health, in particular Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, and Mount Sinai South Nassau — health organizations that have supplied webinars and other resources to the district for about five years.
“Who knew that this would be part of the education system?” Kannellopolous said. “We do more than just educate children now. It’s really the whole child, socially, emotionally and now their health needs as well as academics.
“We know if everyone’s healthy, then those around us will be healthy as well,” she continued, “so that’s been a major goal of Dr. Kuncham and the district — to make sure that we’re making [the Covid-19 vaccine] is accessible to everybody.”