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Ohio Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations For Teachers Amid Evolving School Year

Students wear a face masks and are seated at a proper distance from their classmates in a kindergarten class.(Mary Altaffer/AP)
Students wear a face masks and are seated at a proper distance from their classmates in a kindergarten class.(Mary Altaffer/AP)

In Ohio, the first COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out to teachers this week. 

In Mahoning County, one of the first counties to receive the vaccines, Amy Savich has been teaching kindergartners for more than 20 years at St. Christine School inYoungstown. She says she feels a sense of relief after getting the vaccine knowing that she has some protection against the virus. 

Savich says about half of her colleagues who were eligible for the vaccine felt the same way, but others were concerned about getting the shot.

“We had some hesitant due to different beliefs, but we’re all here for the safety of our children,” she says. “So we are hoping that we made good choices.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionsaid this weekthat teachers do not need to get vaccinated for schools to reopen safely. But still many teachers don’t feel safe returning to the classroom, and the teachers union in Chicago is fighting with city officials about reopening.

Savich says she supports those teachers because she was also nervous about returning to school. But her school has implemented a number of safety measures that have helped put her at ease.

“Our school did a great job with the masking and providing shields and providing the appropriate [personal protective equipment] that we needed,” she says. “But I can see where other colleagues, if they don’t have that support and have those resources available to them, it could be scary.”

Since returning to in-person learning this year, the St. Christine School hasn’t had many outbreaks with infections mostly occurring among junior high students, Savich says.

“But down in our primary hall, which is [kindergarten] through third, our students have been fantastic,” she says. “They are always wearing their masks. We have our plexiglass around us, and we are constantly sanitizing.”

Savich thanks parents and the students themselves for holding each other accountable for taking the proper safety precautions, such as washing hands and wearing masks properly. She says kids will politely call each other out for breaking the rules. 

“If somebody’s mask is down, they’ll simply say, ‘Mary, pull your mask up,’ ” she says. “And if they’re too close, they’ll say, ‘Could you stand back a little?’ They react to each other and they do it.”

Across the state in Medina County, all schools in the area are closed Thursday to get shots into the arms of teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and office staff, saysSuperintendent Robert Hlasko.The school system is partnering with a discount drug store chain to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to 3,500 education staff members in one day.

Hlaskotold Here & Nowthis week he is not eligible to get a shot in the first round. Eligible educators were identified by the Ohio Departments of Health and Education based on how often they come in contact with students.

“I work in the Educational Service Center and don’t typically have that much contact with kids in the classroom, so I’m not one of those people that are eligible in this phase, and that’s fine,” he says. “We want to make sure that the people that are working directly with those kids on a day-to-day basis are the ones getting that vaccination.”

The Medina County school system has been similarly lucky in avoiding outbreaks, Hlasko says, due to following safety protocols and communicating with parents and students about staying home when they feel sick. 

“What we really saw was in the high schools, it seemed to be more prevalent among students or staff, and that’s because the high school students are just traveling and engaging, more so than maybe an elementary student certainly would be,” he says. “It’s been pockets here and there and has not been astronomical numbers.”

As for the challenge of speaking to students about the importance of stopping the spread, Savich says it’s been “quite easy” with her kindergarteners. 

“They also do listen to us teachers, so they take our word as gold,” she says. “So I try to be as positive and encouraging that together we’re going to get through this, and if we all help each other, we will get better sooner.”

Alexander Tuerk produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.