Texas broadens COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, local teachers waste no time

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The Texas Department of State Health Services announced Wednesday, March 3, that teachers and related educational staff are eligible, effective immediately, to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

With the eligibility expansion, the State of Texas said several hundred thousands of Texans will be able to get vaccinated.

DSHS told MyHighPlains.com the education sector (pre-K to 12th grade, other staff and personnel) includes an estimated population of just under 700,000 people, while the child care workers in Texas number an estimated 23,400 people.

According to the City of Amarillo, the new availability includes individuals who work in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, as well as Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Amarillo Public Health Department Director Casie Stoughton said the eligibility does not extend just to teachers, but for anyone who works at the school district.

“It’s always a good day when we can protect more Texans, more Amarilloans,” Stoughton said. “So, if you’re a substitute teacher, if you’re a teacher, if you work in the cafeteria, if you’re a bus driver, if you are a custodian, like, whatever your interaction is at that school or at the daycare, then you would you would qualify for the vaccine in this category,” Stoughton said.

Also immediately eligible are individuals who work for licensed child care providers, including center-based and family care providers, said COA.

Stoughton said there has been a steady line for vaccinations in recent weeks, but many teachers and educational staff members showed up Wednesday for their first doses.

Michala Berend, a 7th grade teacher at Fannin Middle School, had this to say after receiving her shot, “I’m feeling good. I’ve been wanting to get the vaccine. I was a little iffy about it and up in the air, but I’m glad that it’s finally available for teachers.”

Stoughton added, “I think there’s some excitement around. We’ve had, you know, lots of people in line, you know, ready to show their badge to say, ‘I’m a teacher, I’m ready to be vaccinated.’ So, you know, we’re so thankful that they protect our kids in classrooms every day and so now we’re just thrilled to be able to protect them with a vaccine.”

MyHighPlains.com caught up with local teachers outside of the Amarillo Civic Center, where the City of Amarillo’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic is located. Several teachers said they were grateful to finally get their vaccines.

“A weight has been lifted. I mean, we’ve been going to school all year where it seems like on both coasts, they haven’t even gone yet,” said Stacy Gjerde, a 2nd grade teacher at Olsen Park Elementary School. “It’s a little bit of a relief for us to be able to get something especially when they’re opening everything up at 100%…We’ll feel a little better about being in the classroom. If they decide to take the masks away, we’ll feel a little bit more protected.”

Gjerde and another local teacher, Tiffany Whigham, who teaches ESL in Canyon ISD, said the protection is not just for them—but also for those around them.

“It gives me freedom and peace of mind to know that I’ve done what I can just to mitigate not only my risk, but like my students risk and also my family,” Whigham said. “I’ve got a father-in-law who’s battling cancer right now and so we’ve had to be super cautious and super careful. And this helps me feel like in a month or so I can spend some time with him and not be as concerned as I have been in the past.”

Gjerde added, “”I’m super excited that we finally get to get vaccines. Actually, my parents are older, and they’ve gotten theirs and I haven’t seen them in a year. So, I’m super excited to get it so I can start seeing them.”

The City of Amarillo said for the latest information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine at the Amarillo Public Health Department (APHD) walk-in vaccination clinic at the Amarillo Civic Center, go to amarilloalerts.com. Teachers and staff are asked to please present their employment identification badges at the APHD walk-in clinic.

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