LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Bobbie Lester, a nurse at Indian Trail Elementary School, hoped to send a clear message to her colleagues Friday as she became one of 32 Jefferson County Public Schools employees to take Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
"By me taking this shot today, I want to show my coworkers and all of my coworkers at JCPS that this shot is safe," Lester, who also works with Jefferson County Traditional Middle School during distance learning and as a caregiver, said moments before taking her vaccine at the city’s drive-thru vaccination center at Broadbent Arena.
"I want to do my part," she said. "I want to go back to work. I want the children back in the classrooms."
JCPS school nurses are among the first vaccine recipients in Jefferson County, where classrooms in Kentucky’s largest school district have been closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The district expects about 60 school nurses will be vaccinated during the first wave of inoculations.
Teachers and other school staff are in the next group of vaccine recipients, who are expected to start getting their doses near the beginning of February. More than 13,000 teachers, employees and contractors have requested vaccines, according to JCPS.
"The light as at the end of the tunnel," JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said.
Exactly when JCPS begins its gradual reopening depends on school board approval and how quickly doses can be distributed.
Dr. Sarah Moyer, the city's chief health strategist, said the health department and local hospital network could eventually handle more than 20,000 vaccinations in a week.
She said the city hoped to vaccinate JCPS staff within four weeks, "but it's all going to depend on allocation."
Pollio reiterated Friday his proposal to begin reopening elementary schools starting in kindergarten as teachers and staff receive their vaccines. He told the school board Tuesday that Moderna’s vaccine requires a 28-day waiting period before booster shots are given, followed by another week of waiting before schools can reopen.
While a steady decline in local COVID-19 cases could provide an opportunity to reopen schools at JCPS, "we know looking at the data and the trend right now that the vaccine is probably the quickest way for us to get back to school," Pollio said.
Pollio said this week that JCPS will need about 7,000 vaccine doses to reopen elementary schools and nearly 12,000 to reopen all schools.
“I am inspired walking in here today because I know that this is the beginning of the end,” he said.
Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage, associate medical director for the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, said the drive-thru vaccination center at Broadbent Arena will distribute about 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, its first in operation.
Vaccinations will not be mandatory for JCPS teachers and staff, and nearly 2,000 employees declined to take a vaccine when surveyed by the district as it secured doses from the state. About 3,500 employees did not respond to the survey.
JCPS will provide accommodations for staff based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "but our other employees will be returning to work," Pollio said.
The district has already approved accommodations for about 2,000 teachers and 1,500 staff, he said previously.
Lester, who said she was skeptical of the vaccine "until two or three weeks ago" because of its rapid development, hoped her willingness to take Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine would convince others in JCPS to follow suit.
"I'm just going to be throwing and blowing kisses all day long," Lester said when asked what she would do on the first day of in-person classes. "Hopefully by me being here today, it'll change someone else's mind."
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