Educators, school staff and residents under 65 with comorbidities began receiving vaccines Monday as the state moves into the next portion of Phase 2 of the vaccine distribution plan.
The Lawton High School Cafeteria hosted about 1,000 teachers and staff not only from Lawton Public Schools but from area schools such as Apache and Geronimo. Vaccine distribution for 65 and under with comorbidities was held at the former Dillard’s store in Central Mall.
“Today, because of the partnership with Lawton Public Schools, we’re able to vaccinate a lot of educators in Comanche County,” said Brandie Combs, regional director for the Oklahoma Department of Health District 5. “So we’re doing 1,000 shots at the mall and we’re doing 1,000 shots here at LHS, and this partnership so no group was left behind.”
LPS Superintendent Kevin Hime said he supported the clinic and the state’s effort to vaccinate educators and staff so much so he made Monday a virtual day. He said the virtual day helped free up teachers and staff to receive the vaccine as well as allowed school medical staff to assist with distribution.
“This vaccine gives our teachers that reassurance,” Hime said. “These are the people are face to face with the students. I’ve said this over and over — everything you read and all the experts will tell you, the safest place for kids is in school face-to-face, but nowhere in the fine print does it say the safest place for teachers is in school face-to-face. So, the adults are at risk and this is going to take some of that risk away, and it’s going to make it where we can continue to keep our kids in the classroom.”
The Physicians’ Hospital in Anadarko partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Health to host a vaccine distribution clinic Monday, the organization said in a press release. The clinic provided 120 Anadarko Public Schools teachers and staff with the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our teachers put their lives on the line each and every day to ensure our students are learning and cared for through the uncertainty of the pandemic,” said Anadarko Superintendent Jerry McCormick. “My team is grateful for the local hospital in Anadarko and the state health department for protecting our teachers, so they can continue to do the important work on the front lines of education.”
Eisenhower Middle School teacher Sahona Littig-Albin waited in the long line Monday morning to get her first dose of the vaccine. She said Stitt’s decision to move teachers higher up in the phases was one of his better ones. But not having the vaccine didn’t keep her from the classroom.
“I made the decision early on to be in the classroom to help my fellow teachers who couldn’t,” Littig-Albin said. “This shot is very, very important to me because I had an aunt that died of COVID.”
Although the school district did a great job with contact tracing, controlling exposure and spread, Jessica Foster, an orchestra teacher for MacArthur High School and Middle School, said she was happy to get the vaccine.
“I think it will give a lot us peace of mind,” Foster said. “I think I will feel more comfortable being around my students since I have the vaccine.”
Adding teachers and support staff expands access for another 89,000 people, Oklahoma State Department of Health Deputy Director Keith Reed said in a press conference Feb. 11.
Teachers and school staff were originally in Phase 3 of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, but Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt moved the group to Phase 2 in December. Stitt made moving students back to in-person learning one of his top priorities. Many schools, including Lawton Public Schools, have offered in-person learning, virtual and hybrid classes.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said allowing teachers and schools staff to get the vaccine as soon as possible is critical to get students back into the classroom.
“While in-person school is more dependent on COVID mitigation strategies such as masks and social distancing, ensuring the vaccination of teachers is vital to keeping school doors open,” Hofmeister said in a Feb. 11 press release.