About 500 public and private educators received COVID-19 vaccines Saturday as part of Phase 1b at the Lynchburg region’s new mass- vaccination center.
The event was a collaboration involving the City of Lynchburg, Lynchburg City Schools, the Virginia Department of Health, the Lynchburg Fire Department, the United Way of Central Virginia and the city’s emergency services department, officials said.
“We’ve created this opportunity so that everybody in our region who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine,” Lynchburg Fire Chief Greg Wormser said. “The challenge is we don’t get enough vaccines in our region. But we have a great facility to vaccinate people. Our role is to make sure this operation runs smoothly and people get vaccinated as quickly and efficiently and effectively as possible.”
The mass vaccination center is at the Candlers Station building formerly occupied by T.J. Maxx.
Wormser said the city gets a few hundred vaccines per week and consistently vaccinates a few hundred people per week.
“Usually it’s more than 300, but typically less than 600,” he said. “And this week we’ll have vaccinated a little over 1,200 people in the 1b category, so that is a tremendous increase in what we’ve been seeing.”
LaTonya Brown, director of student services for Lynchburg City Schools, said the school division hopes these vaccination events are the first step towards getting children back to face-to-face instruction.
“Because we need that right now, not just the kids, but the teachers, day care and everyone else needs that right now. So above all with this vaccination clinic we want our kids back as soon as possible,” she said. “But we want our state as safe as possible to. So, hopefully we can bring them back in sooner.”
Beverly Jackson, a staff member at Brighthope Educational Learning Center, said she was feeling relief after receiving her first shot of the vaccine Saturday.
“I wanted to get it to be safe; this feels like a step forward,” she said. “With so much going on, the not knowing is what scares me.”
Jackson, 63, has some underlying health problems and said she felt it was necessary to go ahead and get the shot.
Though the Brighthope center is still able to provide child care for some children, she hopes with the increased availability of the vaccine, that more will be able to come back to school soon.
JoAnn Martin, director of communications for the city of Lynchburg, said the Central Virginia Vaccination Task Force, composed of the region’s emergency coordinators and other community stakeholders, has been working for several weeks to get both private and public school teachers vaccinated.
The event was scheduled for earlier in the month, but due to weather it was postponed to Saturday; it was appointment-only.
Martin said there will be other mass vaccination events scheduled in the future as more vaccines come in.
“We’ll be scheduling all the workers and we’re working through the list, not only for Lynchburg child care centers, but in all the counties, so it’s Lynchburg, Bedford, Campbell, Amherst, and Appomattox. So we’re working through all the child care centers in the Central Virginia region,” she said.
She said these events are in preparation to soon administer the vaccine to the general public, at which time there will be a high need for community volunteers.
Staff from the fire department and nurses from Lynchburg City Schools volunteered to administer the vaccine Saturday.
United Way of Central Virginia worked to get early childhood educators from the private field on the list to receive the vaccine.
Karen Wesley, director of educational programming and Smart Beginnings with United Way of Central Virginia, said these are educators and staff at private day cares and pre-K schools. She said it was an effort on behalf of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, which works closely with the governor’s office on issues relating to childhood education.
“And I think it became apparent that while they were having these closed pod events at some of the public schools across Virginia, the private sector wasn’t getting the same kind of access to the vaccinations,” she said. “So they started an initiative and tried and reached out to the Smart Beginnings across Virginia to see if we could facilitate local events with our health departments so that early childhood providers could have the vaccine made available to them as well.”
She said the child care industry has kept schools running, and if it weren’t for them, many parents and guardians would have been unable to return to work.
Brown, the LCS student services director, said collaboration and teamwork between the schools and the city made the vaccination event run effortlessly.
“We work together as a team and we hope that the community sees us as a team and we’re starting to vaccinate other agencies as well. Our role as Lynchburg City Schools is just to be a partner with the city. We work hand-in-hand with each other to meet the needs not only of the school staff, but the city staff, and also our community as a whole. And I think that is the key and is the glue that holds us all together as a city.”
Both she and Wormser have held hands with their own staff and community members.
“You don’t know what that person’s social and emotional well-being is when they come in,” she said. “We’ve had staff come in and just be an emotional wreck at times because of life and things they’ve gone through because of COVID. So just us being here and saying, ‘Hey we’re here for you,’ and having the time and space to do that is just huge for us right now.”