As Graves Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Bryan Burroughs got his first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Monday morning, he looked away so he wouldn’t see the needle going into his arm.
At the same time, however, he said he felt a sense of relief as the vaccine was injected into him. He also felt a sense that health officials value him and other teachers by taking steps to make sure the vaccine is available to him.
“I was just grateful,” Burroughs said. “The person giving me the injection told me she works for Gwinnett county Public Schools also, and so I was just grateful that all hands were on deck to get teachers vaccinated as quickly as possible.
“I did alright with it. I didn’t want to look, but I did OK.”
Monday was the first day that all teachers in Georgia were eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as the state expanded the pool of people who can get vaccinated.
As the first 600 Gwinnett County Public Schools teachers and staff who had appointments to get vaccinated on Monday showed up to get their doses at the former Sears location at Gwinnett Place Mall, Gov. Brian Kemp stopped by to see how the mass vaccination site has been working.
The site — which has the ability to vaccinate up to 3,000 people a day once enough vaccine doses are available — is currently administering more than 1,800 doses a day.
“We’re so excited to be vaccinating teachers today, 600 of them just at this site, so this is a great day for our state in the fight against this invisible virus,” Kemp said.
The governor praised the partnership between county government, business and health leaders who got the mass vaccination site set up. County leaders worked with the health department as well as the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District and Northwood Ravin, which owns the former Sears space, to establish the mass vaccination site at the mall.
“We had a great walk-though inside,” Kemp said. “It’s very impressive what this team is doing. There are school nurses working in conjunction with the regular folks who have been here the last several weeks to help the expanding criteria to help get our teachers vaccinated as well as those other eligible Georgians.
“(There’s a) very impressive process that they have here, much like what I saw earlier this morning in Habersham County at our mass vaccination site up there.”
Gwinnett County Public Schools has scheduled appointments for 3,600 employees this week, and another 3,600 employees next week. GCPS Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said more than about 8,000 teachers have indicated an interest in getting vaccinated through a partnership between the school system and the health department.
“I’m sure some people maybe can’t, but it would probably be good if all that were able to to get vaccinated,” he said.
The superintendent said it is possible that teachers who have not yet opted in to get vaccinated through the partnership between school and health officials to go ahead and do so.
“They’ll still be available,” Wilbanks said. “Now, it may not be an organized day like today, but there will be times available for them to come and get it, and if we need to, we would work with the health department to organize it.
“We would like for everybody who wants to be vaccinated, we’d like to make sure that happens.”
For Burroughs, the decision to get vaccinated was based not only on himself, but the people around him.
“(It was) for the health of myself and everybody in my social network, my family at home, my parents, my students (and) their families as well, so the help for myself and the help for everyone involved,” he said.
The district is currently eyeing having all students back in school in the fall, but the superintendent said that could change if there is an uptick in cases. Wilbanks said the decision on whether GCPS will open for all in-person learning this fall will also take vaccinations into account — the superintendent said teacher vaccinations “certainly is” is big factor in the decision.
“We appreciate those who are taking advantage of this and hopefully the others will, unless they have underlying conditions that their doctors recommend that they don’t get vaccinated,” Wilbanks said.