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Teachers Roll Up Sleeves For COVID Vaccine After Pleading For Sooner Eligibility

St. Louis teacher Morgan Hernandez reacts to being jabbed with a coronavirus vaccine during a clinic for educators at Vashon High School on March 15, 2021.
Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis teacher Morgan Hernandez reacts to being jabbed with a coronavirus vaccine during a clinic for educators at Vashon High School on Monday. Despite all her tattoos, Hernandez said she's "100% very afraid" of getting shots.

Missouri teachers began lining up Monday for coronavirus vaccines after a monthslong campaign for state officials to move up their eligibility.

St. Louis Public Schools will vaccinate about 2,000 employees by the end of the week, though it’ll be tough to get all 70,000 teachers in Missouri fully vaccinated before the end of the school year in May, given limited supplies.

“We've been trying to get the vaccine for our staff for months and talking to anybody who would talk to us,” said Charles Burton, the head of human relations for SLPS, who also received a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I'm super excited about it, excited for our staff,” he added. "There are a number of staff who want to be there for children, but they're scared, and people have different levels of fear, anxiety around this.”

Teachers and district staff moved through Vashon High School’s gymnasium on the first of the four-day drive with near-military precision, ushered by members of the Missouri National Guard.

Social studies teacher Mabel Davis has been back in the classroom at Sumner High School since the district reopened middle and high schools in January. She was initially nervous about returning, but it’s grown more routine over the past two months. While those nerves have subsided, she was nervous about getting a vaccine with a short track record. In the end, she convinced herself it’s important.

“I just felt like I do need to it,” she said. “It did hurt a little bit, but everything’s going good.”

About 60% of SLPS students are learning remotely, so Davis has been running lessons for both her in-person and virtual students.

Jacqueline Bonds-Fowler works with many students who have special education needs at Cleveland NJROTC High School. Being vaccinated, she said, will make interacting with students less stressful.

“Because they're huggers, and they've still been hugging,” she said. “But you know, you’ll feel more comfortable going home after you've been at work and being with those kids because they need that type of affection.”

Teachers unions in Missouri pressured the governor and health director for months to make educators eligible for vaccines sooner, pointing out in February that all of Missouri’s eight neighboring states were already inoculating teachers.

Gov. Mike Parson gave in on Feb. 25, opening up the new phase of eligibility on March 15. About 500,000 Missourians fall under the “critical infrastructure” tier.

SLPS doesn’t plan to change its instructional model for the fourth quarter as teachers get vaccinated.

Later this month, Hazelwood and Ferguson-Florissant will begin opening classrooms for the first time since the pandemic began. They were the last two districts to announce a return to some level of in-person learning in the St. Louis region.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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