Amherst County High School junior Amya Hankton said she felt relieved after she received her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Friday afternoon at the school.
“It feels like this is finally coming to an end,” she said. “It’s a relief.”
Hankton, 17, said she has been participating in the Amherst Remote Academy this year, primarily as a precaution because of COVID-19. She hopes, now that she and her fellow classmates and teachers are receiving the vaccine, she’ll feel safe enough to spend her senior year back in the classroom.
Amherst County High School held its first vaccination clinic for students Friday, following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement earlier this month that Virginians ages 16 and older would be eligible to get the vaccine starting April 18.
Amherst County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Arnold said the vaccine was optional. If getting more people vaccinated means more students will be back in classrooms next fall, Arnold said, officials want to help make that happen.
“We have a vested interest,” Arnold said. “We want our kids back and we want to take down all the barriers that may be out there that are, for whatever reason, keeping our kids out of the classroom full time.”
As of Friday, Amherst County Public Schools has reported 116 cases of the virus in its facilities since the beginning of the school year.
Friday is the division’s 100% remote learning day, which is why the facility is available to host weekly vaccine clinics, but Arnold said school administrators recognize transportation could have been a barrier to students coming to school to receive the vaccine.
William Wells, assistant superintendent, said local health officials, Blue Ridge Emergency Management and Amherst County Public Safety partnered with the school division to coordinate the clinic.
Wells said vaccines have been administered to division employees and community members at Amherst County High School since early February.
For Friday’s student clinic, Wells said the division prepared more than 270 doses, estimating about a third of its roughly 800 students who are 16 and older would participate. About halfway through the two-hour clinic, 100 doses had been administered.
“We just felt that the quicker we can get people immunized, the quicker we can get back to normalcy in our schools,” Wells said.
Dawn Purvis, registered nurse at Lynchburg General Hospital, volunteered to help administer doses Friday to Amherst County High School students. Her reasons, she admitted, were selfish.
“My daughter is a student here and she’s been so excited about getting her vaccine, so really I was hoping I’d be able to give her the vaccine,” Purvis said.
And she did.
“That was really such a special moment,” Purvis said. “I mean, how cool is that? I feel like I got to save her life.”
Amherst County, as of Friday, had recorded 2,902 cumulative cases of COVID-19, 120 hospitalizations and 35 deaths related to the coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Health. To date, 19,903 vaccine doses have been administered in Amherst County — 11,348 first doses and 8,941 second shots, data on VDH’s website shows.
According to the VDH, 35.9% of the county’s population have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 28.3% are fully vaccinated.
Last week, officials with some other area school divisions said they would not be holding vaccine clinics specifically for students, for various reasons.
Clayton Stanley, assistant superintendent for instruction in Campbell County Public Schools, said the division was focusing on end-of-the-year events and not actively planning a student vaccine clinic.
Amy Pugh, deputy superintendent for Lynchburg City Schools, said the division had hoped to run a vaccination clinic for students at one of its schools, but instead coordinated with the Lynchburg Health Department to designate a date and time last week specifically for student vaccinations. Pugh said the division communicated this information to students and parents and encouraged them to sign up for appointments if they wished to receive the vaccine.
Ryan Edwards, spokesperson for Bedford County Public Schools, said the division tried to schedule a student vaccine clinic but couldn’t find a time that would be available for all eligible students while not interfering with SOL testing.
Students who received their first doses Friday will receive their second doses May 21. Wells said the division will explore all options if younger students are approved to receive the vaccine.
“We just felt that the quicker we can get people immunized, the quicker we can get back to normalcy in our schools.”
— William Wells, assistant superintendent