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Time is now for teachers, school staff to sign up for vaccines, officials say

Health department and hospitals hope to begin registering recipients Monday

All districts — For preK-12 educators who have been waiting on the COVID-19 vaccine to provide light at the end of the tunnel, the opportunity to sign up for vaccinations will soon be here.

The Kent County Health Department is working with local hospitals to set up a link for teachers and other school personnel to get scheduled and provide locations where they can get the vaccine. Officials hope to have the link go live by Monday and have people get their first shots next week.

District superintendents will receive the link and send it out to their employees, with the goal of enabling school staff to be vaccinated as soon as possible, said Joann Hoganson, the health department’s liaison to schools.

“I am very dedicated and committed to getting the vaccine to school personnel as soon and as efficiently as possible, because I recognize how important that is as one of our tools to keep schools open and keep our kids educated,” said Hoganson, KCHD community wellness division director.

The health department is working closely with Spectrum Health, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and Metro Health/University of Michigan Health to make vaccines available ASAP to not only teachers but all school personnel, such as bus drivers and maintenance workers, Hoganson said: “They’re all important to keep the school running.”

State Prioritizes Educators

School staff were moved up on the state’s priority list Wednesday, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the state has opened up a new phase of the vaccine rollout to school personnel along with police officers, first responders, child care providers, people over 65 and frontline state and federal workers.

Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said they are accelerating the state’s efforts to vaccinate at least 70 percent of residents over 16 to help end the pandemic in Michigan. Health care workers, along with nursing home residents and staff, have received the first round of vaccines, with more than 140,000 doses administered so far, officials say.

“The more people we can get the safe and effective vaccine, the faster we can return to a sense of normalcy,” Whitmer said.

Local education leaders are urging all school employees to get in line for vaccines to protect themselves, help curb the pandemic and make schools safer.

“Obviously, each individual will have to make their own personal decision about taking the vaccine,” said Ron Koehler, interim superintendent of Kent ISD. “But I would encourage all who want the vaccine to register as quickly as possible, because there is a great deal of pent-up demand among the essential workers and 65-and-over populations for the safety and security provided by the vaccine. 

“Certainly, the 95 percent efficiency of the vaccine, if it is taken by a majority of staff, promises to create a safer environment for teaching and learning,” he added. “It also offers the greatest promise for a return to normal operations and consistent face-to-face instruction, which we know to be the most effective form of teaching and learning.”

Don’t Wait to Sign Up

Hoganson echoed that sentiment, noting the urgency of keeping schools open and curbing a pandemic that in Michigan has seen more than 500,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 13,000 deaths, over 500 of those deaths in Kent County.

“It’s important for people to sign up as soon as possible,” she said. “The worst hypothesis is that we have vaccine, and we have appointments, and people don’t sign up.”

To that end, school personnel will be provided with a private link to sign up and vaccination sites designated for them, in addition to a public registration site that was released Friday, Jan. 8. Others in Phase 1B category, including people over 65, police and others, will also be served at those vaccination sites.

While it is perfectly acceptable to use the VaccinateWestMi.com website to get an appointment for your vaccine, the administrator of each school should also be receiving a separate link from Spectrum, Mercy, or Metro where their staff can sign up, Hoganson said. Each of these health systems has agreed to vaccinate a portion of the educational staff in Kent County.

Given that the national vaccination rate has been slowed by some people’s fears about the vaccine’s safety, and skepticism about needing it, Hoganson said she is working with Koehler and others to set up a town hall to provide education and take questions. She said she has already taken the vaccine and encourages others to do the same.

“It has been tested, it has gone through every stage of validation, every stage of studies as every other vaccine. There were no shortcuts taken. It was sped up but they didn’t skip any steps. The results are incredibly impressive as to how safe it is.”

She said she is “thrilled with the level of efficacy,” but that it’s crucial at least 70 percent of people get vaccinated to achieve the “herd immunity” that will provide maximum protection for the general population.

“If you’re not going to take it for yourself, take it to help us reach herd immunity. The community benefit makes it worth it.”

CONNECT

State of Michigan coronavirus dashboard

Kent County COVID-19 data

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio

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