CHAMPAIGN – Earlier this month, 1,291 teachers and other staff members at Champaign Unit 4 Schools received their first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This week, they return for a second dose.
Dozens of staff members and some members of the community filed in and out of Centennial High School on Monday. They stood in line and waited for their turn for a second dose, as school nurses prepared and administered vaccines. After they received their vaccines, Unit 4 staff members sat six feet apart from each other — all wearing masks — for 15 minutes to ensure no one had a negative reaction to the shot. Stacey Moore, chief communications officers for Unit 4, says the district will host two more vaccine clinics this week for those who couldn’t make it on Monday.
Margee Poole, nurse administrator for Unit 4, says the school district set up the clinics after the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District asked for their help administering vaccines to educators. Poole says they observed staff at C-UPHD administer vaccines, and then they copied much of that process. Poole says the reactions from staff have been positive.
“We’ve had some staff who have been tearful with joy — a great sense of relief. I’ve heard many say that, you know, they can’t wait in two weeks when their immunity is up, they’re going to hug people they haven’t hugged in a year. So I think it’s very emotional,” she says.
Cindy Limentato was one of several Unit 4 school nurses prepping vaccine doses on Monday in an area adjacent to what’s normally the high school’s cafeteria — and what is now a pop-up vaccine clinic.
Limentato says a lot of the staff she’s talked to are grateful for the opportunity to get a vaccine, while the process has been emotionally triggering for those who may have lost loved ones to the virus.
“It’s been very surreal. It just has that feel that it’s just something that is very historic happening here. I had one administrator describe it like being on a movie set,” Limentato says. She added that the effort was one of the most organized events she had ever participated in, and that she’s happy to help bring more teachers and students safely back to school buildings.
Traevon Parnell, a history teacher at Central High School, got his second dose of the vaccine this week. Parnell says it’s been a tough year for everyone, but he hopes the COVID-19 pandemic has been a learning experience for the school district, and will help them better prepare for similar crises.
“Certainly the pandemic is still going on, but I mean any future pandemics, or epidemics or health crises, things like that. This is kind of the world we’re living in now. I think we’re learning that.”
Parnell says he’s looking forward to getting back to the classroom and being vaccinated will make him feel safer doing so.
Lee Gaines is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.
Follow Lee on Twitter: @LeeVGaines