GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — On Wednesday, thousands of teachers across North Carolina got their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine -- an important step for them, and for families, as we return to in-person learning.
The state expanded vaccine eligibility to Group 3 on Wednesday, starting with educators and school personnel. This group includes teachers, principals, childcare providers, bus drivers, custodial and cafeteria staff and others in our pre-K-12 schools and childcare centers.
Channel 9 learned more than 3,000 educators and support staff will roll up their sleeves at a clinic at Caromont Regional Medical Center in Gaston County for the 3-day event.
It will be the largest mass vaccine site in Gaston County to date, but you must have an appointment.
Teachers started getting checked in at 8 a.m., and had their temperatures checked, their masks on and kept socially distanced. The hospital expected to vaccinate about 100 people an hour Wednesday.
Pam Miller, who is a first-grade teacher at Page Elementary in Belmont, was among the group receiving the first dose Wednesday. Starting Monday, she will have a classroom full of students for the first time since the pandemic shut down schools almost a year ago.
Elementary students will be in school four days a week instead of two. She said the timing of these vaccines is critical.
“I feel like it is a sense of relief,” Miller said. “This new phase is going to be scary too because we’ve got a lot more kids. We can’t keep them six feet apart. Nobody’s classroom is that big.”
Wednesday’s clinic in Gaston County is just for educators and support staff, but the other two days will include people who are over 65.
Getting the vaccine was especially important to Kristen Moore, a kindergarten teacher at Dilworth Elementary. She got her shot, went into the hallway, and then started her virtual learning.
She proudly told her students that she got vaccinated for them, and was nearly in tears speaking to Channel 9 reporter Ken Lemon afterward.
“It’s emotional,” she said. “I have parents who are older. I have little ones. I have my students. I just want to get back in the classroom. Two days a week isn’t enough for them. They need us five days a week.”
Moore said the shot brings teachers one step closer to a return to life before the pandemic.
“There has been a lot of ups and downs, a lot of roller coasters,” she said.
The shot is also very important for Lisa Byrd, and other Gaston County elementary school teachers. She told Channel 9 she is less concerned about herself and more concerned about students missing in-person instruction.
“Our kindergartners have not gotten to have the kindergarten experience,” she said.
Gaston County officials want to see almost 9,000 vaccinations in the next few days -- a large bulk of that is happening at Caromont Regional.
Wednesday in Iredell County, Iredell-Statesville Schools partnered with the Iredell Health System to vaccinate 1,000 school employees at Iredell Memorial Hospital.
Mooresville Graded School District employees will be vaccinated Saturday and Sunday. Appointments are required for both events.
Channel 9 reporter Dave Faherty was told 1,200 educators rolled up their sleeves to get the vaccine over the span of about five hours.
There were about 40 healthcare workers at Iredell Memorial Wednesday morning for the drive-thru clinic. Organizers had six different lines set up for people to get the vaccine, and once they pulled into the hospital it didn’t take long for that to happen.
People like Willow Wilcox, who teaches kindergartners at Troutman Elementary, rolled up their sleeves for the shot.
“It’s just nice to have that safety behind you and knowing that you are vaccinated and you know that the kids will be safe,” she said. “It’s just another precaution.”
Channel 9 spoke with teachers, bus drivers and other school workers, who all said they were thankful to be at the clinic to get their shot, but they also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated to safely return children to the classroom.
Bus driver and teacher assistant Lisa Park was also eager to get the vaccine. She had COVID-19 last summer and ended up in the hospital. She said she was out of work all of September.
“For me, it was pretty bad,” Park said. “It had me to the point that I felt I just gave up on everything. Once I bounced back, I’ve been back.”
The hospital expects to vaccinate another 1,800 school workers in Iredell County this weekend. By Monday, Iredell Memorial hopes to have administered 20,000 vaccines.
Chad Evans teaches at West Iredell High School and believes the hundreds of shots given out on Wednesday will have an impact across the county.
“I think it’s vitally important that we take care of our teachers and provide an opportunity for our kids to come back to school,” he told Channel 9. “I think it’s very important for their social development as well as their education.”
In Cabarrus County, teachers and staff can get their shots Thursday at the Cabarrus Arena in Concord. The first dose clinic will be for all eligible groups.
Appointments for that clinic and another one on Saturday are already booked, but you will have another chance on March 5.
In Burke County, the school system is scheduling teacher vaccine appointments at a public clinic at Freedom High School. Older teachers, those with health issues, or work with children with special needs get priority.
In Watauga County, more than 600 teachers and staff got their first COVID-19 vaccine doses on Wednesday.
According to the Anson Health Department, teachers and staff who registered will get their vaccines Wednesday as well. The district is handling those appointments.
Union County Public Health, in partnership with Atrium Health, will host a large-scale vaccination event on Friday, Feb. 26 and Saturday, Feb. 27 for child care and PreK-12 school employees. Union County Public Health is coordinating directly with organizations to schedule vaccination appointments for all eligible child care workers or school employees who wish to receive the vaccine.
Those who work in child care facilities or schools in surrounding counties also have an opportunity to request a vaccination appointment during this two-day event by calling the COVID-19 vaccine hotline (704-292-2550). The appointments will be scheduled based on availability.
In Mecklenburg County, Novant Health said teachers and school staff who want to sign up for the vaccine will have to go through the same appointment process as people in Groups 1 and 2. At this point, they have no plans to hold a vaccination clinic just for educators.
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