Sai Rayala, Contributing Photographer

Alongside free pizza and live music, the New Haven Health Department hosted a “Rock the Vax” event on Saturday to encourage young people to get COVID-19 vaccines. 

The event took place in the 333 Valley Street Center: An Intergenerational Organization, Inc. —  nicknamed “The Shack” — and is one of the many vaccination clinics held in Ward 30 throughout September. The Health Department organized the event in partnership with Griffin Health and Ward 30 Alder Honda Smith to target youth living in the ward. According to the New Haven’s COVID-19 website, only 37 percent of New Haven teens aged 12-15 have received their first dose of any COVID-19 vaccine, and only 30 percent have received their second dose.

“When [Alder Smith] reached out to us for this partnership, we thought, this is ideal for us to be able to provide education to parents, encourage parents to get vaccinated if they’re not, but then also be able to make sure that we have the parental consent for the youth as they’re getting dropped off,” New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond told the News.

Robb Blocker, a Clinic Charge Nurse for the Health Department, said that the Department has used a variety of strategies to incentivize vaccination in the community and to “show our appreciation” to individuals who get vaccinated. In addition to live music and free food, other events have offered free backpacks, thermometers and gift cards. Carolyn Kinder, interim executive director of the 333 Valley Street Center, noted that these incentives lead to higher attendance on weekends particularly, when students do not have school and parents often do not have to work. 

The Health Department has also encouraged vaccination through methods such as social media messaging and billboard and mobile advertising. Ward 30 resident Jerrell Meritt told the News that he regularly distributed flyers around the neighborhood and went live on social media to encourage others to attend vaccine clinics. Smith has tagged residents individually on Facebook to personally ask them to get their vaccines. Bond has also orchestrated partnerships with New Haven Public Schools and organizations like City Angels, a nonprofit baseball academy, to directly engage youth in vaccine campaigns. 

“It starts with the community and it ends with the community,” Bond said. “We want to engage the community to be part of this process so that we can be able to influence others.” 

Despite these attempts, some vaccine skepticism persists in the New Haven community.

Blocker said that the rise of the Delta variant has prompted many people to get vaccinated but that there is still a small cluster of residents who are wary of the vaccine. He believes that the community needs more education and conversations about the vaccine in order to improve vaccination rates across the city. 

Smith also said that vaccination requirements to enter certain settings can play a role in incentivizing young individuals to get vaccinated. Ward 30 is currently planning to hold events for both young and elderly residents at the Shack in order to foster intergenerational partnerships. COVID-19 vaccinations will be required in the community center, which Smith said had encouraged some young people to change their mind about the vaccine. 

Other residents discussed the importance of being direct and honest with people who have not been vaccinated. Merrit said that he had conversations with the young kids in his neighborhood that have been hesitant in the past, but usually “come around” to getting vaccinated. 

 “You’ve got to talk to them straight up,” Meritt said. “You know, you’re gonna have some symptoms [from the vaccine], but not as bad [as if you had COVID].”

According to the New York Times Coronavirus tracker, 66 percent of the New Haven population is fully vaccinated as of Sept. 20.

Alongside free pizza and live music, the New Haven Health Department hosted a “Rock the Vax” event on Saturday to encourage young people to get COVID-19 vaccines. 

Sai Rayala reports on Yale-New Haven relations. She previously covered climate and environmental efforts in New Haven. Originally from Powell, Ohio, she is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College majoring in History.
Sadie Bograd covers Nonprofits and Social Services. Last year, she covered City Hall. Originally from Kentucky, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in Urban Studies.