Goeckner Brings COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic to East Harlem High School

Goeckner Brings COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic
to East Harlem High School

By Kate Malott

Peter Goeckner, BA’17, lives by the Jesuit core value “women and men for and with others.”

He learned how to get involved with and advocate for diverse groups during his time at Creighton. It’s the value of shared experience that led Goeckner to establish a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for teenagers in East Harlem, New York.

“At Creighton, I became attached to the Jesuit values and mission-driven work,” Goeckner said. “When you have a mission, you can take a step back and recalibrate how you want to move forward.”

Goeckner taught English in South Korea as part his Fulbright fellowship before joining the staff at Cristo Rey New York High School, a Jesuit college preparatory school, two years ago. He works closely with foundations as grant writer and has taken on additional roles as a soccer coach and history instructor, too.

Cristo Rey New York serves primarily students of color from low-income backgrounds – the average family income is about $31,000 a year.

Last month, Goeckner noticed an increasing need for public health education at the school.

Students didn’t know how and where to make COVID-19 vaccination appointments, or if they were free, and were uncertain about the safety of mRNA vaccines. He and colleague Ryan Scheb surveyed the school and found that, at the time, only 20 percent of the student body had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Historically, in this community, there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancies due to public health injustices of the past. There’s distrust with the health care system combined with a lack of access to good health care and trusted sources for medical advice,” Goeckner said. They decided to take action, creating a plan for when the vaccine would become available for people 14 and older.

First, they would inform students that the vaccine was safe. They made a video, featuring faculty and people of color, with credible information about vaccines and a preview of the upcoming clinic.

“People want to be healthy, and they want to understand how they can be healthy, but you can’t do it without community leaders and people they trust,” Goeckner said. “That’s why the video and individual outreach was crucial.”

Second, they would make the vaccine process easy. The best way to increase a vaccinated population at school was to host a vaccine clinic there.

“If getting appointments and going to a pharmacy is inconvenient, we’re going to bring the vaccine to them.”

At the heart of Cristo Rey New York’s success is its work study program, which connects students with employers. Students work one day a week at a corporate-level job to see how their education applies to professional scenarios. Thanks to an established partnership with Major League Baseball, the clinic was able to move forward.

MLB had partnered with CVS to host mobile clinics for its players in the spring. Knowing how to execute a clinic, MLB representatives were able to get CVS to host a site at Cristo Rey New York High School.

In less than two weeks, the clinic went from an idea to an event. Goeckner provided pharmacists a walkthrough of the clinic space – the school’s cafeteria parish hall – and helped coordinate Cristo Rey staff volunteers. On May 26, CVS hosted four Pfizer vaccination stations at the school. Two retired MLB players, Todd Zeile and Yonder Alonso, attended, too.

“Alonso got his first shot here, and he’s Cuban, so that was a big deal for our community.”

The Cristo Rey New York clinic provided 133 people, primarily students, with their first vaccine dosage. Now, more than 50% of the student body has received at least their first shot, and the goal is that 70% to 80% are vaccinated by August.

Students will receive their second dose during a follow-up clinic June 16, during which other students and family members will have another opportunity to receive the vaccination.

Goeckner credits the Jesuit core values he learned at Creighton University as the foundation for his interests in serving others.

“To be for someone, and advocate for someone, you have to be with them, too. I want to be engaged with the entire Cristo Rey community; it’s all because of that simple Jesuit value that stuck with me.”