Emphasizing the importance of being in person, GDS made the switch from virtual to hybrid learning before COVID-19 vaccines were available for teachers. Since COVID-19 has more detrimental effects on adults than youth, a major fear for teachers has been the possibility of contracting COVID-19. Now, some teachers are beginning to gain slight peace of mind from receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.
“It is amazing, just astounding that we got multiple effective vaccines out this fast,” science teacher Vinay Mallikaarjun said.
Being vaccinated may provide a sense of security for teachers, as two of the vaccines currently available to them have efficacy rates between 94 and 95 percent. “It makes me feel less nervous about coming to school,” Math Department Chair Lee Goldman said. “I like teaching in person much better than I do from my family room, but it is a little, you know, nervous-making.”
Assistant Principal of School Life Quinn Killy, who teaches science, echoed that sentiment, saying, “Getting [vaccinated] for me would be another layer of comfort and assurance.”
While many GDS teachers have been partially or fully vaccinated, the vaccination process for teachers has been inconsistent, mirroring the beginning of the United States’ general vaccine rollout. Currently, D.C. is prioritizing teachers that are in person or willing to come back in person, according to lower/middle school nurse Elizabeth McDermott. McDermott said that more teachers “will come back after they are vaccinated,” but that there will still be an option for teachers to stay virtual. McDermott added that teachers have the choice of getting vaccinated in the District, due to working at GDS, or in the state where they live.
According to McDermott, GDS does not have a list of teachers who are vaccinated, and GDS is unable to require teachers to get vaccinated, as the vaccines are being administered under emergency approval. However, McDermott made it clear that most teachers want to get vaccinated.
“Virginia was not really doing that great with teachers,” Goldman said, adding that she got vaccinated in D.C despite living in Virginia.
Although vaccines may provide teachers with peace of mind for their own health, many are still concerned about those in their households who are unvaccinated. “It [getting vaccinated] doesn’t change much because my partner is high risk and so I can’t actually change any of my behavior, because it affects other people,” theater teacher Christal Boyd said.
“While I might feel safe, the people around me, whether in my household, in my community, whatever it might be, they may not be,” Mallikaarjun told the Bit. He added that he lives with people with “at risk conditions for COVID, where if they contract it, the severity of their symptoms will be quite strong.”
McDermott said that GDS “was asked to submit to the Department of Health a list of eligible teachers.” After that, though, “it is really kind of out of our hands.” Teachers were sent a link to schedule appointments, and, McDermott said, “It filled up pretty quickly.”
The D.C. Department of Health partnered with One Medical, a primary care provider based in D.C. “[One Medical] said I should hold off, so people who are actually in person can get the vaccine first,” computer science teacher Elyon Olaniran, who teaches virtually, explained. Now that many teachers have gotten the vaccine, Olaniran thinks that it may be his turn next.
With vaccine appointments being difficult to come by for some teachers, GDS staff have relied on each other to inform people of available appointments through sending alerts. “I am very thankful to the colleagues,” Chinese teacher Min Wang said. After trying to schedule an appointment for nearly two weeks and finally scheduling one, Wang found the process “very frustrating.” She added, “The appointments are very limited, so I just kept clicking it and then the system is just not functioning well.”
While some teachers experienced frustration, others were able to get an appointment relatively easily. “It turned out for me to be very easy,” Goldman said. “But I know colleagues who had trouble with the same system that I was using. It was just random. I just got lucky honestly.”
Amid the hope of COVID-19 vaccines helping to curb the virus and the lives it claims, GDS will be staying diligent in practicing mitigation strategies. “We’re still going to be masking, we’re still going to be distancing, we’re still going to be washing our hands,” McDermott said, “We’re also going to be testing people, continuing to test people even after they’ve been vaccinated.”
“This vaccine is not like a barrier that keeps the virus from getting into you,” McDermott said. “What we don’t know is whether [if] you have been exposed, you can still transmit the virus.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “We’re still learning how well COVID-19 vaccines keep people from spreading the disease.”
Even with some students in the high school being old enough to medically receive a vaccine, the current priority is to vaccinate those who are older, have preexisting conditions or are essential workers. In the future, some GDS community members hope that the majority of GDS students will have the opportunity to be vaccinated, as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for those over 16. Some students have already gotten the vaccine. Senior Mack Dixon, who received the vaccine as he works at a veterinary clinic, said, “I interact with people to get their animals. Being able to do my job better is a lot nicer.”
“I think that it is good for our school, for our society, in terms of us moving forward with making sure folks are not dying from COVID-19,” said math teacher Anike Oliver.