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Now Vaccinated, Local Teachers Await Return to Classroom

Woman getting a shot
Melissa Temple (right) is the principal's secretary at Arthur Ashe Elementary School in Henrico County. She, along with other teachers, first responders and other essential workers were able to get their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination event last week. She said the shot wasn't too bad, comparing it to "a little pinch." (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

When the opportunity came for Deborah Nadeau to get her first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, she didn’t think twice. 

Her sister and aunt are both nurses. They already got their vaccines, and now they help administer it to others.

“That was good enough for me,” Nadeau said. “My go-to was always to check with my aunt, who's been a nurse my whole life. I value her opinion, so if she thinks it's safe and good, I'm going to go for it.”

Nadeau is a reading teacher at Fair Oaks Elementary School in Henrico County. Thousands of school employees are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as part of Virginia’s Phase 1B. Earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam said vaccinating Virginia’s 285,000 teachers and childcare workers is a “critical” step in reopening school, and furthermore, the state economy. 

Nadeau is one of almost 4,000 people that received their first shot during a mass vaccination event at the Richmond Raceway last Thursday, which was hosted by the Richmond and Henrico health departments. Other workers considered essential and at the highest risk of COVID-19 exposure, such as police officers and firefighters, were also vaccinated as part of Phase 1B.

“I'm looking forward to being in a building with students. I'm looking forward to my own children being able to go back to school. They're doing decently at home, but they want to be at school with their peers and with their teachers,” Nadeau said.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Richmond and Henrico health districts said 1,451 Henrico school staff were vaccinated at the Raceway last week. A count was not available for Richmond school staff. The health district is planning seven more vaccination events for teachers, police and firefighters between now and Feb. 5.

Sherry Young-Jones, a special education teacher at John Marshall High School, also got vaccinated during the Thursday event. She said she appreciated the atmosphere, which she described as “calm” and “inviting.” However, Young-Jones said she wished more people from her community had also come to get vaccinated.

“I know it's a reservation in the African American community,” she said. “The negatives and side effects, those have been a lot of the obstacles, I believe, that's curtailing the crowd. It's a lot of negative publicity on social media that's giving the negatives of being vaccinated.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, side effects for the COVID-19 vaccine look like those for any other vaccine, and last for a few days at most. Vaccine side-effects include pain or swelling around the area of the shot, a mild fever, chills, fatigue and headaches.

Young-Jones says she’s seen social media play a big part in fueling misinformation about the vaccine. She was able to see through that misinformation, she says, because she was raised to put her trust in medicine, though she doesn’t blame those who don’t due to a history of racial discrimination in the medical field.

“My mother believed in vaccinations, so despite the trials that African Americans have been through with being tested, my mother looked beyond that, and she still saw that we were vaccinated,” Young-Jones said.

She said another big reason she felt comfortable getting the vaccine was the governor’s medical background. Northam, a former pediatric neurologist, held a press conference at the Raceway as vaccinations were underway. After getting her shot, Young-Jones stuck around to meet Northam and thank him for his work. 

Melissa Temple, the principal’s secretary for Arthur Ashe Elementary School in Henrico, was also grateful for the staff at the Raceway event, who asked her to sit in the car and wait for fifteen minutes after her vaccination, in case she felt any side effects that kept her from diving home. 

Temple said she felt fine, though she said she may follow the nurse’s advice to take some ibuprofen if her arm feels sore. Still, she says the vaccine was painless.

“It was just like a little pinch. Like a mosquito bite,” Temple said.

She says getting vaccinated is the best support for her students. Diana Shreve, a retired substitute teacher from Henrico, says it’s the best way to protect her family. She says she lost both her husband and her mother to COVID-19 within the last four months. Now, getting vaccinated means she can safely look after her grandchild.

“I urge everyone to get it as quickly as possible so that we can get through this pandemic and get back to our new normal,” Shreve said.

Despite the state’s vaccination efforts, Richmond’s superintendent, Jason Kamras, has said he does not intend to bring students back to the classroom until next school year. In Henrico, in-person instruction was recently delayed indefinitely, as the school district ramps up its vaccination efforts for teachers and staff.

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