Natalie Macpherson was literally dancing and jumping with joy Wednesday as she walked into one of Wake County’s mass vaccination clinics to get her first COVID-19 shot.
Macpherson was among 400 Wake County school workers and childcare workers who got their long-awaited vaccinations on Wednesday, the first day that educators in North Carolina became eligible. They’ll soon be joined by thousands of other educators in the coming weeks as vaccination efforts ramp up in the state and nationally.
“I am absolutely over the moon,” Macpherson, an English teacher at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, said in an interview Wednesday. “I never thought I’d have the privilege of getting my shot so quickly. I’m amazed.”
Previously, North Carolina had only been vaccinating people in Group 1 and Group 2 in the state’s priority list: health care workers and people 65 and over.
But starting Wednesday, preK-12 public, private and charter school teachers, as well as childcare workers, became eligible. Other Group 3 front-line essential workers — such as firefighters, bus drivers, university employees and meat packing workers — will be eligible for vaccines March 10.
“I’m thinking it’s an important and significant step in the process of controlling this virus in the community, managing the spread in our buildings and keeping our teachers, and students and school community and greater community safe.” Wake school board chairman Keith Sutton said in an interview Wednesday.
High vaccine demand from teachers
School workers have been clamoring for the vaccine, with 12,500 registering since Monday, according to Matt Calabria, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. Of those who’ve registered, 3,400 have been invited to get their shots this week, according to Stacy Beard, a county spokeswoman.
Calabria said he expects Wake to be able to quickly go through the educators over the next month because they’re down to only 100 people waiting in groups 1 and 2.
“We will clearly be doing several thousand teachers every week for the foreseeable future,” Calabria said in an interview Wednesday. “The vast majority of people getting vaccinated every day from here on out are going to be educators and childcare professionals for the foreseeable future.”
It may take longer for educators n Durham and Orange counties though.
The Orange County Health Department said Wednesday that it’s reaching out to educators to get them signed up. But due to limited vaccine supplies, health officials said it may take a few weeks or longer before educators are notified to schedule an appointment.
Durham County Public Health Director Dr. Rodney Jenkins said Monday that he plans to set aside 700 shots a week for teachers.
Registering for vaccinations
School workers can go to WakeGov.com/vaccine to join the waiting by using the county’s online vaccine request form. Anyone needing assistance can call Wake County’s Vaccine Hotline at 919-250-1515 at any time of the day.
To be eligible, people must work in-person or anticipate an imminent return to an in-person work setting at a school or childcare facility. This group includes people such as teachers, teacher assistants, bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers.
“I feel like this is how celebrities must feel to get special attention just for doing their job,” said Macpherson, the teacher “It’s lovely.”
As supply allows, people who are eligible will be notified via email, phone or text that it’s their turn to receive the vaccine. They will then make an appointment online or over the phone to get the shot at a convenient date and time.
The county is using mass vaccination clinics at PNC Arena, the Wake County Public Health Center and the Wake County Commons Building to offer appointments six days a week and during evening hours.
Questions about COVID-19 vaccines can be sent to 919-250-1515 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
More teachers feel stressed
The teacher vaccinations come Wednesday as UNC-Chapel Hill released a new study looking at how the state’s schools dealt with the pandemic and handled reopening. Among the findings:
▪ About two-thirds of teachers who responded to their survey said they’d probably take the COVID-19 vaccine. The questions was asked before the vaccines were approved for use.
▪ More than 90% of teachers said they felt more or much more stressed or tired last fall than they had in prior school years.
▪ The majority of teachers rated the effectiveness of their teaching on student learning as “less” or “much less” effective in the fall than in prior school year.
▪ For high school teachers, 36% rated their fall teaching as “much less” effective than prior school years. Due to state rules about social distancing, high school students were more likely to be only getting online instruction in the fall than younger students.
The study’s authors recommend increased support to address teachers’ high levels of stress, fatigue, and concerns about teaching effectiveness. Other recommendations include an educational campaign to encourage more teachers to take the vaccinations.
Harbinger of good things
The beginning of teacher vaccinations is a welcome sign, educators say, in easing their health concerns and bringing back more people who’ve been working from home.
“We want the kids back because we want them to learn and we want them to do their part and get good grades so that’s the main thing,” said June Blackwell, a math teacher at Sanderson HIgh School who was vaccinated Wednesday.
“Finding teachers is not just stopping at one point. You’ve got to keep moving forward and thinking forward.”
The Wake County school system resumed in-person classes last week. Macpherson, who is 51 and has high blood pressure, said that the vaccination will give her some peace of mind.
“Even though the students are socially distanced and have their masks on, they are eating in the classroom,” Macpherson said. “They are all following the rules, they’re wonderful. But it’s just a little nerve-wracking.”
Macpherson called Wednesday a harbinger of good things to come.
“I just feel like everything from this point onward will accelerate to getting all teachers and all students back into the building and that’s an exciting reality,” she said.
Staff writers Tammy Grubb and Charlie Innis contributed