GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Six Grand Rapids Public School Students (GRPS) joined Governor Gretchen Whitmer Thursday afternoon at the DeVos Place, and received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The students are 16 to 18-years-old, and are serving as Protect Michigan Commission COVID-19 ambassadors. They urged their peers to also get vaccinated and stop the spread of COVID-19.
"Young people continue to be increasingly part of Michigan’s population that are getting infected with the coronavirus, and young people of color are among the hardest hit," said Leadriane Roby, GRPS superintendent. "That’s why we’re encouraging young people, as well as adults, in underserved communities to seriously consider scheduling appointments to get their vaccinations."
Sixteen and 17-year-olds are eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine, while Johnson & Johnson and Moderna versions are only approved for those 18 and older. Minors do need a parent or legal guardian at their appointment to give consent for the vaccine.
For Randell Jones, a senior at Ottawa Hills, part of his reasoning for getting the vaccine was in remembrance of his grandfather who had COVID-19 and passed away last year.
"I just know I would never want anything like that to happen to anyone else," said Jones. "I just want to do my part to help end this, and minimize the damage it has caused."
Some students expressed hope for a return to full in-person learning. Mia Jayden Johnson, a junior at Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy, said she found virtual learning "hard" to keep her GPA up.
"Being able to go back to school," said Johnson, talking about what she hopes happens once fully vaccinated. "Hopefully I’ll get my prom next year, because I’ll be a senior...and graduation, open houses, and all those kinds of great stuff."
The students said the feeling is mixed among their classmates about getting the vaccine. While many said their close friend group will get them when eligible, not everyone is on the same page.
"Most are not, I would like to see that changed," said Pablo Villalvazo, a Union High School senior. "They don’t see that as a priority in their lives."
Villalvazo said, getting the vaccine was "very emotional," and he believes his peers should also get vaccinated because it will open many doors, both figuratively and physically.
Roby said, 21,000 teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 have already been vaccinated in Allegan, Kent, Ottawa and Kalamazoo counties. That is about 20% of those eligible.
"Let’s keep it real, we know young people do not always listen to advice from their parents, their grandparents, teachers, politicians, or even their superintendent," said Roby. "They listen to their peers, their classmates, and their friends, the people who they hang out with everyday."
For Jones, he said even those who have not known someone pass away from COVID-19 should consider getting the vaccine.
"Even if you don’t have that personal reason to go get it, think about others, be kind, do your part," said Jones. "This isn’t something that just me alone getting the vaccine, or just you getting the vaccine, can solve. We’re all in this one. I think if you care for others, you’ll go ahead and do your part."
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