Area schools take half-day for vaccine clinics

BERRIEN COUNTY – On Tuesday, some area school districts will be taking a half day to allow their staff members to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Buchanan Community Schools, Brandywine Community Schools and Niles Community Schools have posted a half day for virtual and in-person students for the occasion.

On Feb. 3, Brandywine Community Schools posted a letter to its Facebook page from Superintendent Karen Weimer to announce the upcoming half day. The letter said the Berrien County Health Department has been working with area schools since the beginning of the pandemic to work on safety protocols and procedures.

“Our partnership with BCHD continues, as we are coordinating with them to provide a vaccination clinic for our school employees,” Weimer’s letter said. “Brandywine’s vaccination clinic, along with six other school districts, is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 9.”

On Friday, Weimer said more than 100 employees in the district had requested vaccine appointments.

“That’s probably two-thirds of our district employees — a good amount,” Weimer said.

With educators and school staff being in the vaccination priority group 1B, Weimer said there were around 40,000 people awaiting the vaccine just in Berrien County.

Vaccine Priority Group 1A, according to the Berrien County Health Department, includes people in health care settings with direct or indirect exposure to patients and/or infectious materials. It also included those who work in long-term care facilities. Group 1B includes persons 65 years of age and older, prioritizing those 75 years of age and older. Frontline workers came next with educators, correction workers, first responders, and those working in congregate institutions such as homeless shelters, child care and protective services.

“This is a massive undertaking, especially to mobilize this for school employees,” Weimer said.

Taking a half day allowed staff members to be scheduled in easier to attend times, since it took out the factor of working around their normal class schedule. The short notice of a week, Weimer said, was due to the unknowns surrounding vaccine supply.

“We wouldn’t get definitive dates due to the unknowns,” Weimer said. “It would be ever more disappointing to not get a vaccine when you have an appointment. The [BCHD] kept us informed.”

The school district was given notice about a week and a half before the appointments were to be opened.

“We then informed the staff, and we designated somebody to set up the appointments,” Weimer said. “We got what we got, which is why we need to close the schools for the afternoon.”

There will be a second half day scheduled when the second dose of vaccine is available for staff members.

Weimer said the process throughout the pandemic has been approached with both frustration and the understanding that the same unknowns are being handled by everyone.

“Like everybody, I didn’t think we would still be here handling the pandemic, but we are,” Weimer said. “I think having this vaccine clinic puts a little light at the end of the tunnel. We can’t give up at this point. We still need to mask and distance. But you can tell, it’s a breath of fresh air. My staff feels it as well.”

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