Lakeside High School teacher Brian Marceau didn’t need to think it over when he got the unexpected news that the COVID-19 vaccine would be available for teachers.
A tribal clinic on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation was prioritizing the vaccine for its elders, but had a few excess doses it offered to teachers in Plummer-Worley, which sits on tribal land.
Marceau — who is part of a high-risk population and said he’s been taking precautions extremely seriously during the pandemic — couldn’t get to the phone fast enough.
“I learned that in a staff meeting and three minutes later I was on a call and I was in the next day (to get the vaccine),” he said.
Marceau’s story is hardly unique. Although he was one of the first to get vaccinated on Jan. 6, teachers across Idaho have been signing up in droves since Gov. Brad Little announced last week that school staff are cleared to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It wasn’t exactly a decision I was stressed about,” Marceau said. “The stress I had was how quickly can I get it?”
Heidi McJunkin, who teaches a group of first-, second- and third-grade students at Snake River Montessori, an Idaho Falls private school, was similarly enthusiastic.
“I felt good enough with my own research I was doing, talking to various doctors around I know, doing my own research — and not through social media!” McJunkin said.
“I’m ready to get rid of this mask and hope everybody else can do it too. We can get out of this.”
She got her first dose with a coworker on Jan. 15. Even though they teach at a private school, McJunkin said they didn’t fall through the cracks. Eastern Idaho Public Health was in contact with the school.
McJunkin is enthusiastic about the things she wants to do moving forward. She’s excited for a rock climbing trip next month, but most excited about school and her students.
“I figure I am one step closer, and our school is one step closer to being normal, because this is so, so hard on the kids,” she said.
Jamie Burtosky, who teaches band and choir at Bingham Academy and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, knows she’s going to get a COVID vaccine soon. But she’s holding off for now because of some unique circumstances.
Burtosky had COVID-19 in December and now has antibodies in her blood. She spoke to her doctor and decided to donate her plasma while she is still producing antibodies to help other patients. Burtosky said she learned of the importance of donating plasma when her brother was hospitalized a few years ago, suffered a collapsed lung and needed plasma injections.
“I’ve just always donated plasma,” she said. “I am aware there are not enough donors.”
Once her antibody levels drop, she will sign up to get a shot.
“I believe in the vaccine,” Burtosky said. “I like it when people trust me, to follow my expertise. So I am following my doctors’ expertise and going with what they recommend.”
Jonelle Warnock, who teaches at West Junior High School in Boise, received her first dose of vaccine Sunday. She decided to get the shot for lots of reasons — she wants to help protect her mom and husband, she wants to see her students at school and she wants safe conditions for her colleagues in education.
“I have been a teacher for 28 years and I am here because I love sharing my love of literature and writing with my students,” Warnock said. “Getting the vaccine allows me to continue doing what I love.”
Little and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials said anyone will be able to get the vaccine free of charge. There are more than 200 vaccine providers now, and Idahoans should expect to get the vaccine in many of the same places they would get a normal seasonal flu shot, including a pharmacy, a doctor’s office or a hospital. Employers and public health district offices may also offer the vaccine.
While Idaho Education News can report more than 1,400 Idaho teachers have received the first dose of vaccine or have appointments to do so, it will likely be impossible to know how many teachers get vaccinated overall and how many decline. The state collects limited data on individuals who are vaccinated and the dose they receive. Demographic info such as race and a person’s employer are not collected, Idaho Health and Welfare officials said Tuesday.
Here are snapshots at how the vaccine is rolling out in different districts:
The district doesn’t have a policy requiring staff to get vaccinated, but the district is encouraging staff to get vaccinated and making opportunities available, spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne said.
On Jan. 15 the district partnered with Eastern Idaho Public Health to offer a vaccine drive at Taylorview Middle School. About 600 Idaho Falls staff members got vaccinated at the clinic and the district has a second clinic in three weeks to offer those staffers their second dose.
“Our staff was very excited and enthusiastic and also really grateful for the opportunity to get the vaccine,” Wimborne said.
The district also surveyed its staff. Only 15 percent of respondents said no to a vaccine. About 60 percent said they would get the vaccine, 14 percent said they were unsure and 11 percent said they would not get it now but would maybe get it later.
Madison County (Rexburg and its vicinity)
The district does not have a policy on the vaccine, but encourages staff to get vaccinated.
The school district partnered with Madison Memorial Hospital and Eastern Idaho Public Health to distribute the vaccine, Superintendent Geoff Thomas said.
As of Monday, 300 Madison employees have received their first dose.
Thomas was among them and he participated in a Facebook Live stream of him receiving the vaccine.
“I decided to get the vaccine after reading the research on its effectiveness,” Thomas said. “Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are indicating a 95 percent effectiveness rate, which is incredibly high.”
Thomas said the shot was barely noticeable and less painful than a regular flu shot. He felt a little soreness in his upper arm for a few hours after, but no other side effects.
Twin Falls does not have a policy on the vaccine.
The district has partnered with South Central Public Health District to provide a vaccine clinic on one of the school campuses Feb. 1, spokeswoman Eva Craner said.
The districts reports that about 400 staff members have signed up to receive the vaccine at the Feb. 1 clinic. Overall, the district believes there are about 500 total staffers who will either receive the vaccine at the clinic or have already made arrangements to get the vaccine elsewhere.
Boise does not have a policy requiring vaccines but supports its employees getting a COVID-19 vaccine, spokesman Dan Hollar said.
The district partnered with Saint Alphonsus for a vaccination clinic last weekend for educators. St. Luke’s Primary Health and Saltzer Health are also working to schedule vaccine appointments for employees.
The district has issued a staff survey to help determine how many employees have received or are scheduled to receive the vaccine. At this time, the district does not have any information about the number of employees who have declined to receive the vaccine, Hollar said.
The state’s largest school district does not have a policy requiring the vaccine, spokeswoman Char Jackson said.
The district is partnering with Primary Health to schedule appointments for staff members. District leaders also know many staff members will work with an existing medical provider to get the shot on their own.
The district is not collecting data on whether or not employees get vaccinated, so the district is unable to report or estimate how many staff members are getting the vaccine, Jackson said.