LANCASTER – In a step many hope will be one back toward a life pre-coronavirus pandemic, county educators and school staff received their vaccines this week.
In cooperation with Fairfield Medical Center, the Fairfield County Educational Service Center scheduled around 2,700 total vaccinations over a three-day clinic. Nine hundred appointments were made, running from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
ESC Superintendent Marie Ward said the process ran smoothly, and the vaccine will be advantageous for educators and their respective districts.
“It’s a combination of making the teachers and staff feel safe and secure in coming to do their job, but it also helps the parents and students feel safe in attending school. The vaccine gives teachers extra protection, and let’s them stay in school more,” Ward said. “It will help reduce the need for teachers to quarantine. The ultimate goal is to get kids back into schools for face-to-face learning.”
“School is more than just content, it’s also where teachers and staff can grow children. Virtual learning is a good option, but kids are still missing some key developments when they aren’t in schools.”
Ward said there were approximately 15 school staff educated for every 10 minutes, and she gave credit to FMC for helping the process go smoothly, as the hospital was able to bring in volunteers to help check in and direct people for their vaccines.
“We initially had enough for five stations, but with FMC’s help, we had 15. Now, we’re able to get someone in and out within 30 minutes, provided they don’t have an allergic reaction to shots. Luckily, we have not had any issues,” Ward said.
Patrick Helman, FMC’s pharmacy manager, agreed the process was running smoothly. He said they had had some experience with public vaccination clinics, but the school staff clinic was just “ramped up” in volume.
“This has definitely been a group effort, there’s been a lot of moving parts from all sides of the process. At our morning meetings, I’ve emphasized this is not about speed, but it’s an intentional process,” Helman said. “These people are not meant to be part of an assembly line, but they need to feel comforted while they receive their shots.”
“This whole thing has been nothing but a positive experience with the ESC, and we’ll get to do it again when the teachers get their second round of injections.”
Holly Aaron, a paraprofessional with Lakeview Junior High School in the Pickerington Local Schools District, said she had been apprehensive to get the vaccine when she’d first heard the announcement it would be available to school staff, but was more open to the idea once the roll-out began.
“Working in the schools, it’s been tough to really gauge how the kids are doing, since we rely on seeing their facial expressions, which are covered by the masks. Getting the vaccine is one step closer to getting back to normal, and having some freedom to travel, if the restrictions are relaxed later this year,” she said. “But as a Black woman, I was very skeptical when the vaccine roll-out was first announced. I have a bit of a different perspective on it, because historically, Black people and other people of color have been used as guinea pigs in the medical field.”
“It took a minute to grasp the vaccine would be a good thing for me to get. I turned to two people who helped me realize it’d be worth getting, and as a woman of faith, I took it to God in prayer, before finally coming to a comfort zone.”
Aaron works with seventh and eighth grade students, and while they’ve done a good job keeping their masks on, she said some of the students can be a bit germaphobic, with good reason. She said many of the students like to help keep the room clean, wiping down the tables and chairs, and making sure they’ve washed their hands.
“The vaccine is helpful, but the students haven’t really been worried about that. I think they’re more scared of the idea of all the students coming back to a full classroom. They won’t have all been attending at the same time, but kids are kids, they’re manageable,” Aaron said.
For Sandra Herzog and Heather Pool, this has been one of the “strangest, most challenging years ever.” The two women are employed at Sanderson Preschool in the Lancaster City Schools District. Herzog is a speech language pathologist, and Pool is an intervention specialist.
“It’s been very different for us, just because we’ve had to figure out how to do things differently, as opposed to being able to teach and work with kids how we’re used to it. Everything takes a second thought, but the vaccine definitely helps us as one more layer of protection, for us and the kids,” Herzog said. “So far, these kids have done a great job of adapting to masks and virtual lessons, but it is so much better to have them face to face, especially for our students with special needs.”
Pool added the students have gotten used to everyone wearing masks, and they don’t really “understand” the pandemic as a whole. Receiving the vaccination provides relief to parents, though.
“Before the school year began, our teachers sent introduction videos and conducted virtual home visits with families, all while wearing masks. The kids were ready for it, plus they love helping to wipe down the tables in their classrooms when we’re cleaning up,” Pool said. “The vaccination does help put our minds at ease, and will definitely let the parents rest a little easier.”
Both Herzog and Pool have conducted lessons virtually, but students are in the school four days a week. As specialists, the two move throughout the building, and a vaccination will help them reduce exposure, Herzog said.
“Plus, there have been so many activities we haven’t been able to do with students and their families, which really help their kids develop socially, and helps get the parents involved. But for an event with all of these people, like a ‘Touch a Truck’ day, the logistics would be too tough to do. The vaccine is a huge step on our way back to normal, I think,” Herzog said.
Superintendents throughout the county said they were grateful their staff were getting the vaccinations, although some lamented the fact Fairfield County is in the final phase of getting the vaccines.
For Walnut Township Local School District, Superintendent William Kirby said he was very excited for his staff to have the opportunity to get vaccinated.
“We’ve been working to maintain as much face-to-face interaction with our students as possible, and a vaccine is an essential step to maintain our operations. In our area of the county, infection rates have remained pretty low, so we’ve kept our students at the school, five days a week,” Kirby said. “For our staff to get it, it’s a huge way to get them protected and help prevent a transition to any kind of hybrid or virtual teaching.”
Lancaster City Schools Superintendent Steve Wigton said he was pleased the state government made sure to prioritize educators in general, and he had encouraged LCS staff to take advantage of the opportunity, although he acknowledged it is an individual choice.
Bloom-Carroll Local School District Superintendent Shawn Haughn said the roll-out was a great opportunity for all Ohio educators, and said he felt it was an acknowledgement of how important everyone connected to education is, something that might not have been apparent before the pandemic.
“The majority of our staff has agreed to get vaccinated through FMC, and we have a number of people who have received it on their own. For us, this is another step closer to normalcy. There might have been benefits in being in the first round of vaccinations, but there were advantages in going later,” Haughn said. “We have to remember to be thankful educators are being prioritized.”
Overall, Ward said she is proud of how the county’s school districts have handled the pandemic so far, balancing safety and education. She added this was the first injection of the vaccine for teachers, so they’ll have to come back in three weeks for their second shot for maximum effectiveness.
“We appreciate the fact that Gov. Mike DeWine has leaned on the ESCs across the state throughout this process, and it’s really highlighted how much of an asset we can be to our communities. Another asset we’ve found during setting this all up is Fairfield Medical Center,” Ward said. “We’re hopeful there will be a continued partnership after all this, they’ve just been great to work with.”