Flushing International High School ‘vaccine ambassadors’ work to boost vaccination rate among peers

FILE PHOTO: Adolescents receive COVID-19 vaccine
A woman receives a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a clinic run by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in partnership with the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to encourage all eligible teenagers to get vaccinated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 18, 2021.
REUTERS/Hannah Beier/File Photo

Mayor Bill de Blasio dubbed the summer of this year the “summer of New York City” as virtually all COVID-19 restrictions were lifted a year and a half after the virus reached the five boroughs. But as thousands of New Yorkers tried to make up for lost time by slowly going out, trickling into museums, filling up movie theaters, or attending outdoor concerts a small group of students in Queens spent their time working toward restoring a pre-pandemic world in another way. 

Just under a dozen students at Flushing International High School spent a part of the summer encouraging fellow classmates and their families to get vaccinated against the virus ahead of the fall school year when roughly 1.1 million public school students were set to return to physical classrooms. 

Flushing’s 10 “vaccine ambassadors” spent weeks creating vaccine incentives and making hundreds of phone calls to other students and their families speaking in English as well other languages like Spanish, Chinese, and Pashto to talk about the COVID-19 vaccine’s efficacy, where to get inoculated, and what the vaccine would allow them to do in the city. The roughly 400 students that attend Flushing International High School are all new immigrants from about 40 countries and were some of the most vulnerable students during the pandemic. 

And while all of the students working as vaccine ambassadors were being compensated under a summer youth employment program, they chose to do the work with the hope that the vaccine could make life a little more normal after a year riddled with academic interruptions and loss. 

“I think it indicative of our community, we are tight nit school community and we take care of each other, said Flushing International High School Principal Kevin Hesseltine.” They want to make sure that everyone is safe and that our school is a safe welcoming community for everyone.” 

Yuhao, 18, a vaccine ambassador and current senior at Flushing International High School told amNewYork Metro saw firsthand what the virus could do after a few family members contracted the virus. His family, like so many others in the city, also faced some financial hardship during the pandemic after both his parents lost work for a few months when restaurants were shuttered early last year. He wanted to encourage others to protect themselves and others around them. 

And although she commended her teachers at Flushing for taking on the herculean task of shifting students from in-person to remote learning virtually overnight Manuela Salazar, 19, another ambassador, wanted to push others to get the vaccine so that her classmates could return to in-person classes, where they were could engage better with the material, and shake the loneliness that comes being remote learning. 

Now, in part due to their work, Flushing International High School has a 90% vaccination rate among its students. And according to Hesseltine, all faculty are vaccinated.