Nicole Boudle was on the lookout for the email, and once it arrived the week of Christmas, she texted fellow Keene High School nurse MaryAnn Boynton to make sure she saw the message, too.
The email, which came from the N.H. School Nurses’ Association, notified them that they were eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and included instructions on how to register for an appointment.
“That’s when we were kind of like, ‘Oh my God, it’s here, it’s here,’ ” Boudle said.
They both filled out an online application, which was a bit cumbersome, Boynton said, before scheduling an appointment to receive their first doses of the Moderna vaccine at a state-run site on the Keene State College campus on Jan. 2. From there, Boynton said, the process was smooth.
“It was very efficient, and they were very courteous. They did a great job,” she said of the National Guard members overseeing the vaccination site. “... It just felt like a flu shot. It was very easy.”
The state considers school nurses like Boynton and Boudle front-line health care workers, making them among the highest priority group to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, along with first responders and nursing home residents and staff. Throughout the Monadnock Region, school nurses have begun getting their first of two doses of the shot, and say the process is working well thus far.
Alexis Heaphy, the nurse at Emerson Elementary School in Fitzwilliam, received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine, which requires a second dose 28 days after the initial shot, on Dec. 31.
“It was super-easy for me,” Heaphy said. “I just followed the instructions that the email provided. And then when I went, it was very well organized and went very smoothly.”
She added that all six of the nurses in the Monadnock Regional School District have either received their first dose, or are in the process of setting up an appointment.
Heaphy said the vaccine gives her some peace of mind. “I was really happy to be able to get the vaccine so quickly,” she said. “Working at a school around students, we obviously are social distancing and wearing masks, but there’s still a risk. So it was nice to be able to get the vaccine early, and make sure I’m protecting myself, my students, my colleagues and my family.”
Heaphy added that she hopes the arrival of the coronavirus vaccine will help schools begin to return to normal operations. The majority of schools throughout the area have been holding a mix of in-person and remote classes this academic year. Most local districts are fully remote at least through next Tuesday due to the uptick of cases in the region.
Teachers and other K-12 school staff, along with child care workers, are in phase 2A of New Hampshire’s vaccine rollout plan, which officials unveiled last week, and are slated to be eligible for vaccination sometime between March and May, depending on the amount of vaccine the state receives from the federal government and how many eligible people get vaccinated. The state expects vaccines to become available to everyone sometime in the late spring or summer.
Beyond the practical implications of school nurses beginning to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the shots also hold some symbolic significance as the coronavirus outbreak nears the one-year mark in the state, Monadnock Superintendent Lisa Witte said.
“We’ve known that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but we have not been able to see it,” she said. “And now I feel like we can see it. We still don’t know how far away it is, but at least we can now actually see it.”
Though the vaccines do provide some hope, Boudle, the Keene High nurse, noted there’s still a long way to go before the pandemic subsides.
“People need to know that just because you’re getting a vaccine doesn’t mean that everything’s over,” she said. “I think some people think that just because they get the vaccine that we don’t have to wear masks and we don’t have to social distance and everything’s going to go back to ‘normal’ again. And that’s not the case.”
Beth Fries, the interim chief medical officer for Keene State College’s Health Services, said all seven of her staff members will have received the COVID-19 vaccine by the time students return to campus for the spring semester on Feb. 15. Even so, Fries added that Keene State will continue its coronavirus prevention strategies, including frequent testing, requiring masks and limiting gatherings, throughout the upcoming term.
“My realistic expectation is that not much is going to change before May or June,” Fries said. “I don’t think the students will be vaccinated [before then]. We can all make a guess of when that will happen, but I don’t know exactly. But until a good percentage of the whole population is vaccinated, I don’t think we can lighten up on our mitigation strategies.”
In the meantime, Heaphy, the nurse at Emerson Elementary, said she encourages everyone in the community to do their own research and decide if receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is the right choice for them when they are eligible to be inoculated. And while people do that, school nurses like Boudle and Boynton at Keene High say they hope to give their communities confidence that the vaccines are safe and effective.
“We’re the medical professionals, so people might look at us for guidance,” Boudle said. “And again, we want to model that behavior and show everybody that we did this, we believe in this.
“... It does make you feel hopeful that, if we continue to get people vaccinated, to social distance, to wear a mask and do all the things that we’ve been doing ... that we will be able to come back to school and somewhat be able to have our lives go back to the way they used to be. That’s ultimately our goal. We can’t be school nurses without our students, so we really want everybody back in school.”
Do you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine? Let our staff know at https://www.sentinelsource.com/news/coronavirus/vaccine/.