EAU CLAIRE — Nearly a full year after Wisconsin schools shuttered and COVID-19 began spreading across the state, Chippewa Valley teachers and school staffers this week began rolling up their sleeves for their first doses of the vaccine.
Wisconsin teachers became eligible Monday to get the COVID-19 shot.
The Eau Claire school district is projecting between one-third and half of their 1,250 newly eligible staffers will likely have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this week, said Kim Koller, executive director of administration.
“They’ll go in waves, because they can’t all be vaccinated on the same day,” Koller said Tuesday. “That started this week. We do have some staff that have already received their first round of the vaccine. That number will continue to grow over the next week.”
The Eau Claire school district is partnering with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department to get vaccines in employees’ arms. District staffers are free to schedule their own vaccine appointments with their health care providers, Koller said, but staffers will also be able to get vaccinated at Health Department community clinics this month.
A solid majority of the district’s employees, about 85%, have told the school district they’re interested in getting the vaccine, Koller said in February.
About 175 Eau Claire school district staffers — school nurses and other medical or health care workers — were already vaccinated in Phase 1A.
“My communication with staff is that they’re excited to get the vaccine,” Koller said Tuesday.
“We know that this is an important next step in being where we want to be, which is face-to-face five days a week.”
The Eau Claire, Altoona, Menomonie and Chippewa Falls school districts aren’t making the vaccine mandatory for employees.
Some Altoona school staffers also began getting vaccines Monday, when teachers became eligible in Wisconsin, said Joyce Orth, Altoona school district communications coordinator. The Altoona school district is not currently overseeing vaccine appointments for employees; many staffers are using a vaccine clinic at Jacob’s Well Church in Lake Hallie that’s being operated by Prevea Health, Orth noted.
In Menomonie, all school district staffers will be able to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine this week, said Menomonie schools Superintendent Joe Zydowsky.
A majority of Menomonie school district employees, about 200, are scheduled to receive their first dose at a district-only vaccination clinic Thursday, with their second doses scheduled for April 1, Zydowsky told the Leader-Telegram in an email. Other school staffers are arranging vaccine appointments with their health care providers.
Zydowsky noted: “With a professional development day already scheduled for Monday, April 5, this will provide a long Easter weekend for people to recover from the second dose if any side effects are present.”
Wisconsin’s health department has said it will prioritize teachers in Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout.
The group of people eligible starting March 1, including teachers, is about 600,000 Wisconsin residents strong. Also eligible starting this week were grocery store workers, food chain workers, some non-front-line health care workers and prisons.
It will take the state weeks or months to vaccinate this group, state officials have said.
New vaccine comes to the state
Teachers, along with other groups of people in Wisconisn’s Phase 1B, became eligible to start getting the shot as the first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s first shipment of the new vaccine will be around 47,000 doses.
The Johnson & Johnson shot was approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 27.
It is the first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to be approved in the U.S. It can be kept in a refrigerator for up to three months, making it far easier to transport and ship than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. (The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are both a two-dose series and require freezer storage for transport and storage.)
Though the state is getting around 47,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, it’s expecting much less than that for the next few weeks, Van Dijk told reporters on a press call Tuesday.
“It will be more likely by the end of March we’ll start seeing a regular supply of (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine,” Van Dijk said.
The first 47,000 or so doses of the Johnson & Johnson shot are slated to be prioritized for teachers and school staffers, the DHS has said.
“This is going to help us move through the educator workforce more quickly, and that will open up for others coming behind them,” Van Dijk said Tuesday.