LAYTON — Northridge High School junior Dylan Whitaker summed up his experience as a teenager during the COVID-19 pandemic in one word: depressing.
His school shifted online twice for multiple weeks at a time this academic year due to coronavirus outbreaks, and he has yet to experience a school dance — Northridge’s first in over a year is scheduled for the end of May. Whitaker hopes next year will be different, which is why he chose — with his parents’ permission, of course — to be vaccinated against the virus.
“My parents just got vaccinated, and then asked me one day, like, ‘Do you want to get vaccinated?’ I was like, I mean, yeah, it makes sense to, and that’s what everyone should be doing, right?” he said, adding, “I feel like everyone should be doing it to get to reality as close as we can again.”
Whitaker was one of hundreds of Davis School District students between the ages of 16 and 18 who were vaccinated at clinics inside their schools on Tuesday. The district sent an email to parents last week notifying them of the opportunity, which included a link where parents could register their students and give permission.
The Davis County Health Department provided vaccine doses and Nomi Health, a Utah-based health care company that has been coordinating vaccination efforts throughout the country, provided the workers and its registration system. In addition to Northridge High, Nomi Health ran clinics at Clearfield, Layton and Syracuse high schools on Tuesday. It will give shots at the rest of the high schools in the district next week.
Trevor Warner, a spokesperson for the Davis County Health Department, said Director Brian Hatch reached out to Nomi Health because he wanted to reach as many teenagers as possible before summer break, and the partnership helped the department avoid reducing staff at its primary vaccination clinic in Farmington.
“We know how a teenager’s life works, so we’re just trying to be like, we’ll come to you,” Warner said.
And coming to teenagers, according to a Nomi Health spokesperson, is the best way to reach them. “With this type of set up, we have the ability to reach larger groups of 16-17 year olds vs. waiting for them to proactively find a location, make the appointment and get vaccinated,” the spokesperson said in an email, adding that it’s crucial to vaccinate young people to prevent them from spreading variants to vulnerable people around them.
That’s one of the reasons the Davis County Health Department is expanding outreach efforts, which previously targeted the elderly and traditionally underserved populations, to include teenagers.
“Now it’s time to get as many of these younger kids vaccinated, because we know that they’re going to be the ones with the summer jobs and the ones out with their friends,” Warner said.
Throughout the pandemic, people ages 15-24 have had the highest case rate per 100,000 people of any age demographic in Utah, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. And now that the Pfizer vaccine is available to adults 16 and older, those between the ages 16 and 29 are still catching up in getting inoculated.
State numbers show that adults 16-29 make up nearly one-third of the adult population in the state. Of them, approximately 32.1% had received one dose of the vaccine and 14.3% were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday. In order to reach what epidemiologists refer to as herd immunity, more teens and young adults need to choose to get the vaccine.
Although the vaccine isn’t currently required for students, Davis School District spokesperson Chris Williams said school life will start to look a little more normal as more students become vaccinated. Students who are fully vaccinated do not have to be tested for COVID-19 to participate in extracurricular activities or attend school dances, he said.
The school board is currently planning on starting next school year on a full, five-day schedule, and the state’s school mask mandate is set to expire in June. The coronavirus has proven to be unpredictable, Williams noted, and all of that could be jeopardized if variants spread and cases start to surge again.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity we’ve been given to have students have the opportunity to take the vaccination,” Williams said.