Education employees move to front of line for COVID-19 shots

Faculty and staff in the North and South Sanpete School Districts received COVID-19 vaccine injections for the first time last week.

At high schools in Gunnison, Manti and Mt. Pleasant, school nurses gave first rounds of shots to prioritized groups of school staff who interact daily with students. In the county, 400 school staff got shots this week, 200 per school district.

In North Sanpete schools, 200 teachers, custodians, bus drivers, paraeducators and others who work with students received the first of two vaccine shots. The same is true of 100 school staff members at Manti and Ephraim schools and 100 at Gunnison Valley.

Ben Lasseter // Messenger Photo
School nurse Rachel Jensen places a bandage on the shoulder of Vickie Ludvigson, a Gunnison Valley Elementary School paraeducator, after injecting her with the COVID-19 vaccine.  

There are 150 remaining in the northern district who are eligible and elected to receive doses and 170 in the southern district during this phase of the state’s distribution plan. They will all receive shots tomorrow and Friday, along with employees in the school district offices, according to Ralph Squire, superintendent of the South Sanpete School District.

Rachel Jensen, the school nurse at Gunnison Valley High School, helped administer over 100 shots last Wednesday to all Gunnison Valley school staff 65 and above, educators at the prison and staff at the high school and middle school, the two schools that had seen the most cases of COVID-19.

She said she was pleased to have given a form of protection to school staff and their families.

She also commended the vaccine as a step toward being able to lift mask requirements and allow for group activities without restrictions again. Experts estimate that this can become a reality once around 75 percent of the population is vaccinated, she added.

“I think [school staff] are anxious for a solution,” she said. “They’re already stretched thin” and have “done everything we’ve asked them to.” She also credited the Central Utah Public Health Department (CUPHD) for helping to “keep our lives going” amid the pandemic.

Two of those vaccinated Wednesday felt unwell the next day and took a day off. But Jensen said this kind of temporary side effect is to be expected after any vaccine shot, and that she was “surprised there weren’t more” of them.

Patients must receive two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at least 28 days apart for full immunization. Jensen said she and other school medical staff in the county would administer a second round of shots in a month. Patients who receive both will be considered immune 10 days following the second dose, according to Brenda Bartholomew, chief nursing officer at Gunnison Valley Hospital.

About 70 Gunnison Valley school staff members left over will receive their first shots Friday. Jensen said there were 30 employees of the schools eligible to receive doses now who chose not to for personal reasons.

“We will do our best to accommodate” those who did not initially opt in, but decide later to get vaccinated, Jensen said, but that this month is the only “window” during which school staff will be eligible before the general population.

Because people who have recovered from COVID-19 are believed to have antibodies in their systems that protect them from getting sick again for 90 days, school staff who have had the virus since October were not included in this wave of vaccinations. This is the case for approximately 20 in Gunnison Valley schools, who must wait to get vaccinated with later groups of people, according to the Utah distribution plan.

As of last week, the CUPHD had administered 630 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Sanpete County, according to Nate Selin, the CUPHD director. This figure does not include shots the local hospitals administered from vaccine shipments they received directly from the state.

Bartholomew said her staff had given 280 total first-round doses as of last week and will begin giving second rounds for full immunization this week.

Sanpete Valley Hospital’s most recent count of vaccine shots administered to frontline workers was 121, said spokesperson Shauna Watts. Each of these figures is expected to continue to rise this week.

Starting Monday, Utahns 70 years and older will be eligible to receive the vaccine. The state website for coronavirus management stated they must schedule an appointment with their local health department to do so.

The CUPHD phone number for Sanpete County is 462-2449.