Getting everyone on campus vaccinated against COVID-19 has been a priority for Trinity Catholic School in Fort Smith.
Dr. Daniel Lunsford, a pharmacist and owner of Prince Drug, has been visiting the school every three weeks since January to conduct vaccination clinics. He is often accompanied by his wife, Mary Anne, a nurse practitioner at Baptist Urgent Care.
At a vaccination clinic Nov. 10, 143 elementary and middle school students got shots, and staff members got booster shots. The school serves students in sixth to eighth grades. COVID vaccines for children 5-11 years old became available starting Oct. 29.
“Last January we had about 90 leftover doses of Pfizer vaccine because some health care workers we’d been contracted to vaccinate were reluctant to get the shots,” Lunsford said. “Pfizer only had a five-day shelf life in our refrigerators, and so I called up Trinity and asked if they would like me to hold a clinic there.”
His clinic for staff members was well received, and when the vaccine became available to 12 to 18-year-olds, he started vaccinating eligible Trinity students as well as their parents. With CDC approval of pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds, Lunsford opened the clinic to elementary students from Immaculate Conception and Christ the King schools.
Kay Williams, school nurse and religion teacher at Trinity, said about 95 percent of staff and 70 percent of seventh and eighth graders at Trinity are vaccinated, thanks to Lunsford. She hasn’t started tracking sixth-grade vaccinations yet, but expects that vaccination numbers will increase.
“We follow guidelines established by the CDC and Arkansas Department of Health,” Williams said. “We are continuing mask mandates until January. We wash and wipe off desks between classes and follow social distancing guidelines as closely as our room sizes allow. We have sanitation stations outside each classroom. If anyone in the school contracts the virus, Dr. (Karen) Hollenbeck (Trinity principal) alerts parents.”
Although students attend school in person, Trinity has a virtual option for students who are sick.
“With Google Meets, students who are home sick can sit in on the class, see and hear the same things, including slide presentations. It’s important for sick students to rest at home because when they are sick, their immune systems are weakened, and they are more vulnerable to infections,” Williams said.
Lunsford said, “Early this year, our family was exposed to COVID, and we quarantined Lucas (an eighth-grader at Trinity) and his older sister Ashlyn. They attended virtual school for a few days because we didn’t want to put any other students at risk.”
The Lunsford family, who attend Christ the King Church, are supporters of Catholic education. Daniel Lunsford, who serves on the Trinity school board, likes Trinity for its strong faith foundation and high academic standards.
“In Catholic schools, kids are pushed a little harder, and it shows,” he said. “Ashlyn was well-prepared to transition to ninth grade at Future School this year.”
Families pre-register their children for vaccine clinics and accompany them to their appointment.
“Dr. Lunsford is so down-to-earth and makes the vaccination process so convenient,” Williams said. “It’s been just wonderful for us.”
The high vaccination rate and Trinity’s compliance with CDC guidelines have resulted in increased attendance.
“Thanks to the vaccinations, our football program did not have to cancel any games in the past two seasons,” football coach Rashad McGill said.
“We are so glad we were finally able to vaccinate our entire student body now that the vaccine has been approved for ages 5 and up,” Hollenbeck said. “This is especially important since we will no longer have a mask requirement when the students return from Christmas break.”
Lunsford will continue to organize the clinics in 2022 as students and parents need to get their shot and more 5-11 years olds get vaccinated.
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