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Excitement Abounds as West Hartford Public Schools Staff Receive J&J Vaccine

Math teacher Jessica Blauvelt pumps her fist in the air after being the first teacher to receive the J&J vaccine at a West Hartford Public Schools clinic at Conard High School on March 5, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The first clinic for West Hartford Public Schools teachers and staff was held Friday, March 5, 2021.

Amy Shaffer, the student activities and career center coordinator at Hall High School, receives her J&J vaccine Friday at a West Hartford Public Schools clinic at Conard High School. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Jessica Blauvelt pumped her arm into the air as she became the first teacher to receive a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic hosted by West Hartford Public Schools in the Conard gym on Friday afternoon.

“It’s exciting,” said Blauvelt, who teaches pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry at Conard, and also coaches the gymnastics team.

“I’m very excited. It was unknown for a while, and then the news happened so fast,” she said about the ability for teachers and other school staff to sign up for the vaccination clinic.

Blauvelt said she was determined to schedule her shot as soon as possible so she would be fully vaccinated this spring, and at the time didn’t know it would be the J&J vaccine, which only requires one dose. “I sat in the Target parking lot and hit refresh over and over,” she said, and when the ability to register opened up, she got the first slot.

Other than the slight prick of the needle, the process was easy and painless, Blauvelt said.

Health District nurse Carol Steinke administers the J&J vaccine to Conard math teacher Jessica Blauvelt at a West Hartford Public Schools clinic at Conard High School on March 5. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Carol Steinke, a nurse with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, who administered Blauvelt’s vaccine, said it takes about two weeks to achieve full effectiveness. That’s similar to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but those require two doses rather than just the single dose of the J&J vaccine.

Amy Shaffer, the student activities and career center coordinator at Hall High School, also said she was “very excited” to receive her vaccine on Friday.

“It hurt a little bit going in, but it’s worth the pain,” she said.

“I just want the kids to go back to school full time. As a mom of two in the district, I want them back,” said Shaffer. “I’m very thankful to the district for providing this to teachers and staff.”

Shaffer was also excited that she got the J&J vaccine. “I’m thrilled. One and done.”

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Beverly Yirigian, who teaches in the REACH program, said the shot didn’t hurt much at all. “I’m just glad for the opportunity.”

Aimee Krauss, director fo the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, said 225 teachers and staff were registered to be vaccinated Friday, and another 500 were scheduled for Saturday.

Krauss said she had ordered 1,500 doses of the J&J vaccine for the upcoming clinics, and received 1,000. The next batch of J&J doses will arrive in two weeks. The J&J vaccines are easier to handle, she said, because they only require regular refrigeration and don’t need to be thawed in advance.

Krauss also ordered 1,000 Moderna vaccine doses and received 800 this week.

The Health District is holding clinics virtually every day, and has several in Bloomfield next week and will be back at West Hartford Town Hall on Thursday. She’s working out the details and hopes to schedule a clinic for child care providers next week.

Krauss said all of the West Hartford Public Schools teachers and staff will be receiving the J&J vaccine, and those who were not scheduled for this week will be vaccinated on either Friday, March 19, or Saturday, March 20.

Volunteers prepare to check in teachers and staff at a West Hartford Public Schools COVID vaccine clinic at Conard High School March 5, 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s Deputy Emergency Management Director Bob McCue was helping out at the clinic Friday.

“There are a lot of beginnings of the end, and this is a good one,” McCue said.

To add to the festive atmosphere at Conard, Megan Westcott, the Health District’s epidemiologist, was dressed in a COVID costume – part of a Health District mascot contest.

Megan Westcott (left), dressed as a COVID molecule, with the costume creator Janice Gibson. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“It started as a joke, but then someone made the costume,” Westcott said.

Janice Gibson, also a Health District employee, said she created the COVID costume out of fleece, filled it with quilt batting, and added pipe cleaners and pom poms. She made Westcott a green fleece mask to match.

Everyone who receives their vaccine at one of the West Hartford Public Schools clinics also gets a special button, created by students in the post-secondary program. While the vaccination buttons are free, the West Hartford Public Schools post-secondary program, which serves special needs students ages 18-22, is also offering a variety of custom-made buttons for sale. For details, contact Anna Elfenbaum at [email protected].

The West Hartford Public Schools Post-Secondary program students were handing out buttons to all who got vaccinated Friday. They are also offering customized buttons for sale. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The West Hartford Public Schools Post-Secondary program students were handing out buttons to all who got vaccinated Friday. They are also offering customized buttons for sale. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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