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‘The least I could do’: Why these Detroit teens want their peers to get vaccinated

A Teens for Vaccines event Tuesday in Detroit featured a video produced by Burns Elementary-Middle School students and staff, who sang and danced to a DMX song they adapted to encourage vaccine participation.
Screenshot courtesy Burns Elementary-Middle School video

A group of Detroit high school students who say they want to do their part to encourage more students to get the COVID-19 shot has launched a campaign to get young people vaccinated.

For some, it’s a personal mission.

“Last year, my grandmother … had to be hospitalized for at least a month. It was a hard struggle for her.” said Demitri Marino, a senior at Renaissance High School whose grandmother had COVID-19.

“She was lucky enough to pull through and come home safely. I just felt like it was my part to make sure I can at least do something to protect my family,” Marino said.

Marino and two other teens in the Detroit Public Schools Community District — Harrison Haywood, a senior at Cass Technical High School, and Rachel Kabala, a junior at Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine — launched Teens for Vaccines on Tuesday. The opening event featured Dr. Dennis Cunningham, a pediatric infections specialist at Henry Ford Health System, who answered questions and dispelled rumors about vaccines.

The launch of the event comes as more young people in the U.S. become eligible for vaccines. Teens who are 16 and over have been eligible for one of the three vaccines that have already been made available in the U.S. But by the end of the week, children even younger will likely be able to start getting the vaccine after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents 12-15 years old.

Harrison Haywood, a senior at Cass Technical High School, is one of three Detroit students who launched a campaign to get students vaccinated against COVID-19.
Photo courtesy Detroit Public Schools Community District

The Detroit students plan to hold more events so young people can get questions answered about the vaccine. The district also plans to collaborate with its health care partners to offer vaccine clinics, said Deputy Superintendent Alycia Meriweather.

Haywood said it was important for him to get the vaccine “so I can be advocating for the vaccine as an experience and not just me telling people to get it.” He said he will pursue a career in the medical field, as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

“It’s very important for the public to trust in our science and trust in our medical professionals,” Haywood. “I’m always voicing that to my friends and family.”

Rachel Kabala, a junior at Benjamin Carton High School for Health and Medicine, got vaccinated because she wants to do her part for the community.
Photo courtesy the Detroit Public Schools Community District

The event featured a video produced by students and staff at Burns Elementary-Middle School, in which they too encouraged people to get the vaccine. They used song and dance, adapting the late DMX’s Ruff Ryder’s Anthem, singing, “Stop. Drop. Hurry up and get your COVID shot. Oh, no, that’s how Burns Panthers roll.”

Kabala told the audience that 2020 was a year of turmoil for many. While it helped her bond more with her family, she said, others didn’t have that time. That’s especially true, she said, for the families of the scientists who “stayed in labs day and night,” working to develop the vaccines.

“They were working, making sure we have the COVID vaccine,” Kabala said. “The least I could do on my part as a citizen is to get vaccinated.”

“Thank you for not only finding your voice … but using your voice,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, president of the Detroit school board, told the students. “I hope you understand how important it is to use your voice.”

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