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Given Their Hardest Test Yet, Kentucky Teachers Begin Fighting Off COVID-19 with a Vaccine

Lisa Autry

Some Kentucky teachers are rolling up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine, and doing so ahead of schedule.  

The state’s rollout for school employees wasn’t scheduled to begin until late Jaunary or early February, but some communities have enough vaccine to let educators and support staff jump to the front of the line.

While the state is still rolling out the vaccine to health care workers and long-term care residents, some counties have moved on to the state’s next phase, which includes educators and all school staff such custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. 

School personnel from Warren and Simpson counties are now getting the vaccine by appointment only at a mass distribution clinic operated by The Medical Center in Bowling Green.

Lori Dubree, the school nurse at Lost River Elementary, this week checked in at the Health Sciences Complex on the Medical Center campus where vaccinations are taking place.

“I am here today to just help everyone. It’s been a long haul and it’s time for it to be over," she said, with a laugh.

The Kentucky Department of Education said it’s aware of at least six school districts that have offered vaccines to some school personnel, including Bowling Green and Warren County.  Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said this week that some districts worked with local health departments to vaccinate school staff earlier than anticipated.

Grinning behind her mask, Dubree snapped a picture holding a sign reading, “I Got My COVID-19 Vaccine,” almost like a participation ribbon for teachers. She was impressed by the simplicity of the process.

“We made an appointment on text message and came on in. The nurse introduced himself, told me a little about the vaccine, gave me a shot, and gave me an appointment to come back," Dubree explained. "I took my picture and we’re done.”

Across the room, Michael Wix was getting his injection of the coronavirus vaccine.

“It’s going to be a little sore the next couple of days, but that’s normal," Med Center Health employee Jonathan Morris told Wix. 

“Just felt like a regular shot," Wix said afterwards. "No worries.”

Wix is the principal of South Warren Middle School.  He said he hopes having school employees vaccinated will put more parents at ease about sending their children to school.

Credit Lisa Autry
Med Center Health employee Jonathan Morris administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Michael Wix, principal of South Warren Middle School.

“I would hope that it would make us all feel better about getting back to normal as much as we can, as soon as we can, for the sake of our kids, and for the sake of everybody," Wix said, following his shot. 

Katy Kilburn was in a waiting area where people are observed for ten minutes post-injection for any negative reactions to the vaccine. She works at a daycare at Greenwood High School known as Gatorland.

“I work anywhere with infants to age 4 or 5, and I don’t want them having the risk of getting it, and I feel like one of the steps to prevent that is me just getting the vaccine," Kilburn said.

Kilburn has personal reasons for getting the vaccine too. Her mom contracted the virus after Christmas and was sick for three weeks.

“The first thing that happened was her lungs hurting. She could feel it in her chest. She would cough and couldn’t stand up without feeling like she couldn’t catch her breath," Kilburn recalled. "She lost her taste. She lost her smell, and she still doesn’t have that. She had it pretty rough, and whenever I saw how she reacted to it, I could not imagine."

According to Education Commissioner Jason Glass, the Kentucky Department of Education has no authority to make the vaccine mandatory for school personnel and hasn’t heard of any move from the governor’s office to require it. 

On Dec. 15, the KDE released guidance preparing school districts for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Kentucky Health Commissioner, Dr. Stephen Stack, previously said the state was committed to giving all K-12 staff who want the vaccine and at least one opportunity to receive it by the end of February. In a COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear said all school personnel who agreed to be vaccinated will have received their first doses by early February. Second doses will be administered in early March.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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