Heather Blaker, Hall County School District teacher, decided to receive The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine with hopes of seeing her students’ “full faces” soon once again.
Blaker, ESOL lead teacher at Chestatee Academy, received her vaccination through Hall County Schools vaccine clinic at Lakewood Baptist Church on Thursday night. She said the process took less than 30 minutes. She had mild headaches and body aches afterward.
Across Hall County and Gainesville, teachers and faculty are receiving their COVID-19 vaccination. Hall County staff had two options, either the vaccine clinic on Thursday at Lakewood Baptist or on Friday at Free Chapel from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Today, Gainesville City School System faculty were allotted time slots to be vaccinated starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 11:15 a.m in the Gainesville Middle School gymnasium.
Jeremy Williams, Gainesville School superintendent said 430 staff members were vaccinated. Stan Lewis, Hall County’s spokesperson said Thursday’s vaccine clinic had 480 staff vaccinated. After today’s clinic, Lewis expects over 50% of the district’s staff to be vaccinated.
Shelly Black, Gainesville High School special education and mathematics teacher, sported her “Be The Change” shirt for her vaccination appointment. Black said her shirt described the spirit within the school system. She said those getting vaccinated are taking steps to protect themselves and their students. Black’s decision to get vaccinated stemmed from wanting to return to “normalcy” and eliminate the “fear factor” in classrooms.
“As teachers we teach by walking around and physically going to assist students so not being able to do that out of fear of spreading the virus has been hard,” Black said. “I’m hopeful that by adding this level of protection, teaching and learning can go back to normal.”
Black said she “barely” felt the injection and has yet to experience any side effects.
Not all teachers in Hall County opted to receive The Johnson & Johnson vaccine. After researching the different vaccine options, Megan Middleton decided she preferred the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness rate.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the newest vaccine to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine only requires only one shot instead of the two required by Pfizer's and Moderna's, and was approved on Feb. 27 by the FDA.
The efficacy rate was 72% for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the two-dose Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective. The third option, the two-dose Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective based on the evidence from clinical trials.
Middleton, a Johnson High School teacher, was vaccinated at the mass vaccination site at the Habersham County Fairgrounds. She said she experienced soreness in her arm for about an hour and has not experienced any other side effects. Since being vaccinated, Middleton said she’s looking forward to spending more time with her family.
“I’m excited to be able to spend more time with my parents and brother. I know we’ll still need to take precautions, but I’m relieved that vaccines are decreasing risks of exposure and transmission,” Middleton said.
Blaker said she’s excited to bring the social aspects and events back to schools. She said the pandemic has stripped students of activities such as dances, sporting events and even lockers for students at Chestatee Academy. Blaker said the social aspect of education is just as important as the academic side.
She’s also hoping the now vaccinated teachers will be able to interact with their students without masks in the near future.
“I’m hoping that we will be able to see their faces soon without masks. It is so hard to connect on a personal level when you can only see someone's eyes,” Blaker said.