Camden teens on COVID vaccines: 'I'm not scared'

ByCarly Q. Romalino
Jahlil Bey, 18, receives his vaccine shot at KIPP Lanning Square Middle School in Camden, N.J. on Friday, June 4, 2021.

Makasia Kelly sat back in a folding chair inside KIPP Lanning Square Middle School cafeteria Friday.

With a SpongeBob Squarepants Band-Aid on her left arm and her dad Maleake standing by her side, the 15-year-old Camden Academy freshman waited for her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to set in and show any adverse reactions.

Makasia was among about 30 people — mostly Camden kids who are 12 and older — who received the Pfizer shot at the public charter school event.

While the kids had needle anxiety in common, most were unafraid of the vaccine and eager to put COVID-19 behind them.

“It was my choice because everyone in my family got it,” Makasia said, her dad joking she had to move out if she didn’t get it.

Both Makasia’s parents, including her mother who is a healthcare worker, are vaccinated already. Five of Makasia’s friends received shots already, she said.

“I know people are freaking out. I’m not scared,” the teen said.

She’s looking forward to a bit more freedom after her second dose in a couple weeks.

CAMcare provided 40 dozes to KIPP for the small vaccine clinic, according to Joe Hejlek, director of wraparound services for all four KIPP schools in Camden.

Friday’s clinic was a family event. This week, students with guardian permission will be pulled out of class to be vaccinated during the school day.

“We have not applied pressure for studnets to get vaccinated,” Hejlek explained.

“If this is something you want for your child, this is an option for you.”

Angel Carcamo’s mom decided for him that the 13-year-old would get his shot in the arm Friday. She’s vaccinated, too, he said.

“Getting the vaccine is very important to me. Right now this is what the whole world is dealing with,” he said.

The KIPP eighth grader had already seen ads on YouTube videos for COVID vaccines for kids his age and older. The straight-A student and youth athlete said he was ready to go. The last year-plus has been “very boring,” he said.

“The vaccine is going to change that for me this summer. I’m going on vacation. Now I’m eligible to go places without masks and be normal,” Angel explained.

“It makes me feel safe and secure. I won’t be infecting others.”

While Makasia and Angel’s families are fully vaccinated, there has been some city-wide vaccine hesitency, according Katrina McCombs, superintendent of the Camden City’s public school district.

Offering COVID vaccinations at schools helps mitigate community spread, the superintendent explained.

A COVID shot has not been mandated for students or other personnel to attend her schools, McCombs said, emphasizing the vaccine remains a personal choice.

Vaccine clinics have not been offered by the public school district. It is “continuing to survey our parents and looking to partner with local and regional health partners to host clinics at district sites,” according to district spokesman Mike Neilon.

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