Gault Elementary opened up its cafeteria as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic to kids aged 5-11
Gault Elementary opened up its cafeteria as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic to kids aged 5-11.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

‘We’re going to do our part’: Gault Elementary holds its first vaccine clinic for elementary students

About 100 children received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday at Gault Elementary, one of several school sites set up for the purpose in Santa Cruz County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Food and Drug Administration approved use of the vaccine for children ages 5 and 11 last week. The County Office of Education rolled out clinics Monday at its offices and Cabrillo College as well as at the Parajo Valley Unified School District offices, expanding the locations to public, private and charter schools the following day.

At the Gault clinic, the children were accompanied by parents, teachers and Santa Cruz Warriors mascot Mav’Riks the sea turtle.

Faris Sabbah, the county’s superintendent of schools, said the weeks and months that lie ahead will be quite busy.

“We’ve scheduled 3,800 appointments for kids aged 5-11 over the next two and a half weeks, with up to 300 appointments per day,” he said. “We’re hoping to do even more as we continue to organize and get more efficient.”

Lucy Rolens, a second grader, was excited about getting her COVID-19 vaccination. She proudly said that it didn't hurt.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The clinics have been in the works for weeks.

“We’ve been closely partnering with public health, and all school districts helped in getting the word out and getting students enrolled,” said Sabbah, adding that the goal is to vaccinate at least 8,000 students.

“As long as parents are willing to enroll their kids, we’re going to keep going and vaccinating as many students as possible,” he said.

Gault Principal Amariah Hernandez said she could not be happier to see the dozens of kids lined up for shots.

“It’s a huge relief, to say the least — my kids have been living in masks for so long,” she said. “I’m very hopeful that this pushes the timeline of the return to normalcy forward.”

Hernandez said that organizing the clinic took a lot of work and coordination, but the process brought the staff and other members of the Gault community together.

“Communication to parents was vital, as well as one of the biggest challenges — we needed to make sure that we were reaching everyone and that all were able to schedule appointments,” she said. “The school really showed up and played a huge role in making it work.”

Hernandez said that while the vaccination push has met some hesitance from a small proportion of parents, the school is continuing to provide information and support.

“We are doing our best to support those who are ready, and we’re keeping the door open to those who are still preparing,” she said. “We aren’t judging anyone who is deciding not to, but we really hope everyone does sign up.”

6th grader Lorenzo Pacheco of Branciforte Middle School gets his temperature checked before receiving his vaccination.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Reading teacher Charlene Oatey said she is thrilled at the thought of being able to return to maskless classes in the not-too-distant future.

“I’m teaching phonics right now, and it’s extremely difficult to train the kids to make certain sounds or mouth movements with masks on,” she said. “Getting the kids vaccinated gives a lot more freedom all around.”

Oatey added that students will be getting back other aspects of their lives.

“There is a big social and emotional part of this,” she said. “The students are going to be able to do more of the things that have been really difficult this whole time and connect with each other more effectively.”

Oatey’s son Kazel, along with Hernandez’s two sons, Joaquin and Lorenzo, all received their first shots Tuesday at Gault. Lorenzo was unbothered.

“I feel good, I’m OK with getting shots,” he said. “It didn’t hurt.”

While there is still a long, jab-filled road ahead, Hernandez said she is ready to put in the work.

“We’re going to do our part to make 8,000 happen,” she said. “We just have to make sure that we have the human power to make sure it does.”