Ferguson Elementary School kindergarten teachers Mariah Campbell and Lori Nealy were more than ready Saturday morning as they waited for their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Campbell and Nealy both have been teaching in person since September when the Klamath County School District opened classrooms to its youngest students.
“We really need and want to be in class with our students,” Campbell said. “The vaccine will give me a sense of peace.” Nealy agreed.
“I think it’s so important, not for myself, but to protect my students and my loved ones,” she said.
By the end of the day, nearly 400 Klamath County School District staff – teachers, cooks, bus drivers, secretaries, and others – had received their first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic at the Klamath County Fairgrounds.
“This is our best shot at keeping students in school,” said KCSD Superintendent Glen Szymoniak. “We appreciate Klamath County Public Health, all of the volunteers here today, and the people behind the scenes who worked really hard to make this happen.”
He specifically thanked Jessica Dale, assistant director of Klamath County Public Health; and KCSD’s Chelsey Tyree and Misty Phelps, who did the last-minute scheduling.
KCSD Human Resources Director Mark Greif had been working all week to get vaccines into the arms of educators.
“I want to thank all our district employees for their extraordinary efforts over the last several months to meet the needs of children in our community,” he said. “It’s a godsend that they’ve gotten an opportunity to get this vaccine. We’re so thankful.”
Late Thursday, Klamath County Public Health determined it had enough doses for educators, who were next in line for vaccines.
“We advocated for the return to in-person education, and part of our commitment to the school district was to get doses to teachers as soon as we could,” said Jessica Dale, assistant director of Klamath County Public Health. “Educators also were the next priority group so we wanted to get this to them as soon as we could so we can start with our 80 and older and medically vulnerable populations.”
Public health officials worked with the county school district, Klamath Health Partnership, and Klamath County Emergency Management to put together the daylong clinic. Vaccines also were offered to Head Start and other pre-kindergarten organizations as well as K-12 private schools. City school district staff received vaccines Friday from Sky Lakes Medical Center.
KCSD teachers have been on the front lines since September, many teaching in-person classes for three months before COVID-19 metrics forced schools statewide into distance learning. The district this month was among the first in the state to reopen all grades to hybrid and in-person learning.
Julie Healy, a P.E. teacher at Peterson Elementary School, was thankful to receive her first dose Saturday. Her students have been great at wearing their masks and following the safety protocols, she said, but she still has to modify her lessons to ensure everyone remains safe.
“I see all the kids so that increases my risk,” she said. “Hopefully we’re going to get to the other side of this.”
Dawn Alexander, head cook at Shasta Elementary School, called the vaccinations a step toward getting back to some type of normal for students.
“I see so many students struggling with not being in school,” she said. “It’s so important that we get (the vaccine) so we can keep our schools open.”
After receiving their shots, employees were given an immunization card with first dose information. Once they receive their second doses, they will be fully immunized. However, health officials emphasize that even people who are fully vaccinated still need to wear masks and follow all the safety protocols, including hand washing and social distancing. After being vaccinated, it’s still possible to get a low-grade infection and pass the virus to others.
Among those who lined up for shots on Saturday was Rose Waters, who drives bus for the school district’s special needs students.
“We see so many kids every day,” she said. “I’ve been terrified, and I’m so thankful to be getting the vaccine. I made sure all of our bus drivers knew about this today.”