Teacher vaccinations are still a ways off, but efforts to inoculate school nurses against COVID-19 are already in full swing.
Four New Orleans public school nurses received the first dose of the vaccine Tuesday morning through the district’s partnership with Children’s Hospital of New Orleans.
Nurses are the first school employees under the age of 70 eligible to receive the vaccine under the state’s distribution plan.
Of the district’s 80 nurses, 48 have signed-up to receive the vaccine. Chief Operations Officer Tiffany Delcour said at a press conference Tuesday she expects even more nurses to register in the coming days.
Children’s Hospital Chief Quality Officer Dr. Leron Finger said all school nurses in the greater New Orleans region who want the vaccine should receive their first dose in the next few days.
Before the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for several schools to share one nurse. Now having a full-time nurse on-site is seen as essential. Nurses are often responsible for screening students and staff for symptoms and managing quarantine procedures. Finger said these new responsibilities come with increased risk.
“School nurses routinely come into contact with children, teachers, and staff experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are at increased risk of contracting the virus,” Finger said. “The COVID-19 vaccine will provide them with the protection needed to keep them, their students, and their families safe.”
Venus Parker, a registered nurse with the district’s Exceptional Children’s Services Department, described her personal experience with the virus before receiving her first vaccine dose Tuesday morning.
Last March, she tested positive for the virus along with three of her immediate family members. Her 73-year-old mom, a retired New Orleans public school nurse, got hit the worst. She was hospitalized for a few days and spent a month in bed. Eventually the whole family recovered.
“I wish I could erase it from my memory, but instead I use the experience to remind myself and others of the importance of getting this virus under control,” Parker said. “I never want to be in that type of situation ever again or see anyone else go through it.”
Parker framed getting vaccinated as a matter of personal responsibility and encouraged other New Orleanians to step up.
“I understand that many people have reservations about getting this vaccine … but when those of us who are healthy and able to get a vaccine such as this one for COVID-19, we're actually taking care of our community,” Parker said. “This small yet significant act not only protects ourselves, but it protects our family and friends, those who are immunocompromised or cannot take vaccines for other reasons.”
Teachers and other school employees will likely have access to the vaccine in February after the state enters its next stage of distribution. A virtual town hall is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, where staff can learn more about the vaccination process, according to the district.
Both COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in the U.S. are considered effective and safe by regulatory agencies and independent medical professionals. Vaccination fears have largely been fueled by misinformation spread via social media.
School officials addressed the district’s testing strategy at Tuesday’s press conference and said once students return to the classroom families will have access to regular asymptomatic testing. Three mobile units will rotate between participating campuses every two weeks.
The district is also in the process of distributing rapid antigen tests to schools to allow for on-site testing when a student or staff is symptomatic or has close contact with a COVID-19 case.