Colorado teachers thrilled to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines

Feb. 16, 2021
(from left to right) Lissa Chapman, second grade teacher at Soda Creek Elementary School; Amy Piva, eighth grade language arts and social studies teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School; Charlie Leech, science teacher at Steamboat Springs High School; and Allie Sabat, physical education teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary School, receive their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. Photo: Lindsey Reznicek.
(From left to right) Elissa Chapman, second grade teacher at Soda Creek Elementary School; Amy Piva, eighth grade language arts and social studies teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School; Charlie Leech, a science teacher at Steamboat Springs High School; and Allie Sabat, physical education teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary School, receive their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. Photo: Lindsey Reznicek.

By Erin Emery and Lindsey Reznicek, UCHealth.

At a UCHealth vaccine clinic in Colorado Springs, unexpected applause, cheers and “whoop whoops’’ erupt as thousands of southern Coloradans receive doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Paul Yenne, a fifth grade teacher at Steele Elementary School, receives a vaccine from Dr. Donald Setter, a UCHealth family practice physician.
Paul Yenne, a fifth grade teacher at Steele Elementary School in Colorado Springs, receives his vaccine from Dr. Donald Setter, a UCHealth family practice physician. Photo: UCHealth.

These days, teachers who work in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 are part of that chorus and collective joy at the UCHealth Memorial Administrative Center COVID-19 vaccine clinic where about 10,000 people a week are vaccinated.

“I’m really excited,’’ said Paul Yenne, a fifth-grade teacher at Steele Elementary School. “It was relatively painless, and it feels really good to have one less anxiety this year, to be able to say ‘I got it done, and I’ve got another dose coming, and I’m vaccinated.’”

K-12 teachers eligible for COVID-19 vaccine 

Yenne was among the first teachers vaccinated in Colorado. Beginning Feb. 8, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis moved the state into a new phase of vaccine distribution. Phase 1B.2 includes anyone 65 or older, pre-K-12 educators and child care workers in licensed programs.

UCHealth is working closely with more than 50 schools and school districts across Colorado to help vaccinate teachers and enable schools to fully open. About 20,000 educators have registered with UCHealth to receive a vaccine. Given current supplies of the COVID-19 vaccines, we anticipate it will take several weeks to fully vaccinate teachers across our state. For more information about vaccines, please click here.

Yenne, who works in Colorado Springs School District 11, said he had been following the news closely to learn when teachers would be vaccinated and was elated when Polis authorized those professionals for inoculation.

“As members of the community, we are highly visible and getting this vaccine is important,’’ Yenne said. “We’re showing that the vaccine is here and it’s getting out, and as community transmission starts going down because people are vaccinated, that’s going to give a lot more parents peace of mind when it comes to sending their kids back to school.’’

COVID-19 vaccine not a ticket to freedom

Though thousands of Coloradans have been vaccinated, experts say that even if you’ve been vaccinated, it is important to continue wearing a mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently.

“We are not done. The shot is not your ticket to freedom. You’ve got to keep wearing your mask,” said Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UCHealth and one of the top infectious disease experts in Colorado.

“Once the infection rates go down significantly and transmission is low, then maybe we can do things differently,’’ said Barron, who is also a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible is key to returning to a sense of normalcy.

For Allie Sabat, a physical education teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary School in Steamboat Springs, the morning of Friday, Feb. 12, brought a mix of emotions.

Lynn Seto, a teacher at Eagleview Middle School, receives a COVID-19 vaccination.
Lynn Seto, a math teacher at Eagleview Middle School in Academy School District 20, receives a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: UCHealth.

“I’m nervous, excited, maybe a little scared, but this feels like a piece of hope for our community,” she said, moments before receiving her vaccination at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “The kids have worked so hard this past year, both at home and at school.”

Charlie Leech, a science teacher at Steamboat Springs High School, said students have been resilient.

“That’s been a silver lining of last year. Our students have worked hard to figure out how to do hybrid learning. I’m very proud of them,” Leech said.

Like the vaccine clinic in Colorado Springs, conference rooms at YVMC, converted to allow for socially-distanced observation following vaccinations, were abuzz with excitement. Lively conversation, and even a few cheers, could be heard as the doors opened and closed, signaling yet another educator had been vaccinated.

Brad Meeks, Steamboat Springs School District superintendent, said the district was appreciative and thankful for the partnership with UCHealth to provide the vaccine to many of its teachers and staff.

COVID-19 vaccine provides some safety to teachers

“Our staff have been committed to serving our students and community during the pandemic, and being vaccinated this week provides a level of safety and relief, not only to the students they serve but also their own families,” he said. “We all still need to be vigilant in battling COVID-19.”

“I’m so grateful to have received the vaccine. I’ve missed hugging my students,” said Elissa Chapman, second grade teacher at Soda Creek Elementary School. “And I’ve missed hugs from them.”

Amy Piva, an eighth grade language arts and social studies teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School said receiving the vaccine was something she herself could do to help her school and her community. “I want to be an example to my students and show them the vaccine is safe. I want to do whatever I can to help us get back to normal.”

Back in Colorado Springs, Lynn Seto, a math teacher at Eagleview Middle School in Academy School District 20, said vaccinations will bring “an enormous sense of relief.’’

“It’s been a very big stress and worry and source of anxiety for teachers. On the one hand, we want a classroom full of kids but at the same time, we have our own health to think about, our families, and we don’t want to be sick, we don’t want to make other people sick and we don’t want to make our students sick. So I think having vaccinated teachers is going to help a lot.’’

COVID-19 vaccine clinics running smoothly

Seto said the experience at the Memorial Administrative Center clinic, was superb.

“I felt like they have got this organized to a T,’’ Seto said. “There’s signs over there by the road, directing where to park, and there are signs pointing you to where to walk in, and there’s a nice gentleman by the door, directing me which lane to check-in. So I did the e-check this morning, so they already have that. And the line moves so fast – in and out.’’

Seto said that she has children in her classes but she’s only seen them via video, but never in person. That makes teaching even more difficult. She believes the vaccines are a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Everyone is looking forward to getting back to that sense of normalcy. To get back to in-person learning so parents can go back to their jobs. So it’s been very hard for everyone so I think the more that we can vaccinate teachers, front-line workers and the general population, I think that will go a long way of getting people back to normal and bringing the community back together.’’

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.

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