Calling the shots

As Eureka teachers are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, questions arise about the state’s role in vaccine rollout for teachers.

Vaccination rollout began at the start of 2021, but now three months into the vaccine distribution, the state of Missouri has been hanging around the bottom of the list when it comes to the efficient allocation of the vaccine among the states, according to the CDC. 

While some have cited a lack of government transparency and poor distribution plans, it remains that Missouri’s distribution falls behind other states. In fact, as of March 1, only 14% of the population had been vaccinated. 

Missouri’s allocation plan involves ‘tiers’. The first to get the vaccine were healthcare workers and the second tier was for Missourians with underlying health conditions who were at greater risk. As of March 15, the third tier began and allowed teachers and other contract workers in the Rockwood School District, like bus drivers and substitutes, to get vaccinated. 

While some teachers were able to get vaccinated through the previous tiers, it remained that most teachers came back to in-person learning unvaccinated. 

Catherine Baremore, a Eureka science teacher, has been battling Stage 4 cancer. Because this put her at greater risk, she was able to get vaccinated. 

“I’m on chemotherapy so my immune system is compromised. I was very terrified to come back because of COVID,” Baremore said. 

She was able to get vaccinated at the end of January.

Other educators were able to get vaccinated through other means.

Dawn Jerger, a librarian at Eureka, drove two and a half hours to Anna, Illinois. There she waited in line at a Walmart where she was finally able to get vaccinated. 

“I don’t have health issues like a lot of people do, but even without that, if we were able to have those vaccines before we came back I think it would have taken a lot of stress out of the situation. I do think that after I get my second dose, I’ll feel more protected,” Jerger said.

Her drive across state borders to get vaccinated paints a picture of the reality of the situation in Missouri.

“I don’t think the state has done enough, and I don’t think the district has to do anything with that. I definitely think the state could have done more to protect educators, especially with the calls to reopen schools,” Jerger said. 

A majority of Eureka teachers, however, remained unvaccinated. 

For language arts teacher, Sarah Goodman, the news of the vaccine was a relief. 

“Returning to school unvaccinated has been stressful for me and for all educators. It’s a delicate balance of trying to keep things as close to normal for students in class while still being safe and following mitigation protocols. Teachers want to stay in person with students. Being vaccinated allows us all to stay safer and keep our families safer while still doing what we love to do,” Goodman said. 

While teachers want to remain in school while staying safe for the vaccine, traveling and waiting in long lines is an option for some, but not all. 

“Like most people I know, I would be willing to travel and to endure long lines for the vaccine. That being said, I don’t think anyone should have to and not everyone can. I’m blessed to have the ability to travel and the health to stand in line, but so many people do not,” Goodman said. 

For teachers like Doug Dietrich, a business education teacher, however, the vaccine is a waiting game. 

“Obviously, for selfish reasons and for the wellbeing of all the students and the teachers, I would like to see teachers get vaccinated as soon as possible. I also understand that certain people need to get that vaccine before other people,” Dietrich said. 

He also shares the same concerns as other teachers in the school. 

“I worry that I don’t want to get my family sick. That’s the only thing. I’m not sure, but I think that even if you’ve already been vaccinated, you can still carry it and spread it. That’s the concern. I would feel better, of course, it’s added stress on my life mainly because I’m worried about my family and getting them sick,” Dietrich said. 

For Alysia Abbott, a Eureka math teacher, the vaccine causes skepticism. She has a son with autism, which caused her to heavily research vaccines 15 years ago. While her family still receives their vaccines, they are much more careful about the process and research. 

“I think it was kind of fast for a vaccine to come around, so I definitely have concerns [of the vaccine]. I have been quarantined by a student and by a family member, so I have been quarantined twice. It does add a little concern [of safety]. I have mixed feelings, definitely. I think I’m one of those ‘sit and wait’ kind of people,” Abbott said. 

Despite her mixed feelings, the same concerns about Missouri’s allocation tactics are shared.

“Whether I want it or not, it’s very disappointing that my teacher friends who do want it, can’t get it right now. I feel like Missouri treats us like secondary citizens. We’re essential when it comes to opening the schools, but not essential when it comes to protecting us,” Abbott said. 

After five months of returning to school unvaccinated, educators are now being prioritized by the state. Educators can now make vaccination appointments through Walmarts and healthcare providers.

The Rockwood School District has had little control over the allocation of teacher vaccinations, but they are scheduled to hold a vaccine clinic for Rockwood employees on March 15 and March 29 at Lasalle Springs Middle School. 

“We are thrilled to hear that school staff members will soon be eligible to receive the vaccine,” shared Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles in an email sent to staff. “This is a tremendous sign of hope, and we encourage those who are eligible and comfortable with the vaccine to make every effort to receive it. The health and well-being of our staff, students and families remain at the forefront of all that we do, and we will continue to work in partnership with our local and state health officials to help slow the spread of the virus in our community.”