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Springfield Looks To Counter Vaccine Hesitancy In Young Adults

Paul Tuthill
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno makes a pitch for the COVID-19 vaccines during a first-day-of-school visit to Putnam Vocational Technical High School on August 30, 2021.

Series of in-school vaccine clinics begin

With COVID-19 cases still climbing in Springfield, Massachusetts, a push is being made to vaccinate more young people.

Of the 886 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 recorded in Springfield last week, 57 percent of the infected were people 30 years-old and under. Not surprisingly, say experts, this is also the age group that is the least vaccinated.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, as of two weeks ago, only 44 percent of Springfield residents ages 12-19 and just 42 percent of residents ages 20-29 are vaccinated. The vaccination numbers improve significantly among people over 30-years-old.

In a bid to boost vaccination rates among the young, Mayor Domenic Sarno named a three-member COVID-19 Youth Council. The group will work with the Vax Force – a task force created months ago to strategize how to overcome vaccine hesitancy – and the city’s Department of Health and Human Services on peer outreach with people ages 35 and younger.

“They feel that they’re invincible, and I hope (they) are invincible, but why take that risk? I mean the vaccine works,” Sarno said.

With new COVID-19 cases in Springfield rivaling numbers seen last April before the vaccines were widely available, Sarno ordered an indoor mask mandate to try to slow the community spread of the virus.

He said increasing the city’s vaccination rate will forestall more restrictions.

“I plead, I ask people ‘please trust the facts, get the vax’,” said Sarno. “The quicker we do this the quicker we can start moving forward and not take any steps back.”

The Springfield Public Schools Wednesday launched the first in a scheduled series of in-school vaccination clinics for students and staff in the city’s high schools and middle schools.

Officials started pushing the vaccine on the opening day of school.

“We are sending home permission slips from all the schools,” said Superintendent Dan Warwick on August 30th as the city’s public schools reopened for fulltime in-person classes.

The schools partnered with Big Y to operate the clinics.

Making vaccinations available on-site during the school day is a strategy designed to help increase the city’s lower than average vaccination rate, explained Warwick.

“We want to get those rates up and we’re going to get those rates up because that will make everyone safe,” Warwick said.

As coronavirus infections spread with more schools and workplaces reopening, the demand for COVID-19 testing is going up.

Looking one day last week at a long line of cars with people waiting to be tested in a parking lot at the Eastfield Mall, Democratic State Senator Eric Lesser called for more testing capacity in western Massachusetts.

“This is a problem especially in western Mass,” Lesser said. “It has been a problem since the start of the pandemic, quite frankly, getting enough access to testing throughout our region.”

The operator of the state-sponsored testing site at the mall, American Medical Response, announced it would open an hour earlier on weekdays to respond to the increase in demand.

Also, smaller testing sites are relaunching.

The city of Chicopee announced it will reopen its COVID-19 testing center at the River Mills Senior Center. It will operate Mondays between 8 a.m. and noon for Chicopee residents and city employees.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.