School nurse Erin Stewart drove her car into the old Sears auto garage at the Steeplegate Mall where members of the National Guard stood ready to giver her one of the state’s first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
Stewart, who works at Rundlett Middle School in Concord, was vaccinated as part of New Hampshire’s Phase 1 vaccine rollout, that prioritizes health care workers.
The process on Wednesday morning was smooth, Stewart said, with no waiting in line. The National Guard attendants who were running the process checked her in and asked a host health questions. A master sergeant in the Air National Guard administered the vaccine.
Stewart, who has a history of allergic reactions, was monitored for 30 minutes afterward in the parking lot, where a physician assistant checked on her frequently. Recipients who don’t have a history of allergies are typically monitored for just 15 minutes.
Afterward, Stewart said she felt “relieved.”
“This brings us one step closer to getting our kids back in school, and it gets me one-quarter of the way to hugging my mom for the first time since March,” Stewart said. She has already scheduled her second dose for Jan. 27.
For New Hampshire school nurses, most of whom have been directly exposed to COVID-positive students in their jobs this year, the vaccine brings the promise of safety and a sense of hope during a difficult year in education. Many school nurses received their first dose of the vaccine this week, including nurses from the Concord, Bow-Dunbarton and Hopkinton school districts, and others will be getting it in the weeks to come.
Stuart Gesen, the nurse at Broken Ground School in Concord, was vaccinated Thursday at the Steeplegate Mall location. Gesen said getting the vaccine makes her feel hopeful.
“I have seen firsthand what the pandemic has done to many of our families in our schools,” Gesen said. “It’s been such a hard time for many of our families. I feel like this will be our first big chance to get out of this. I hope people will trust the science to take the vaccine.”
Amy Cook, the nurse at Hopkinton Middle High School, was vaccinated Wednesday afternoon at the River Valley Community College in Claremont. The operation was set up outdoors, and Cook pulled in to a parking spot to receive her Moderna vaccine.
Afterward, during the 15 minute monitoring period, Cook took a selfie that shows the bandage on her arm. Cook said she knows that despite getting the vaccine, she will still have to be careful. She plans to continue wearing a mask and taking the same precautions at work, just with an extra feeling of protection.
“It’s a little overwhelming thinking about what all went into getting this vaccine,” Cook said. “I am really excited that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for this.”
As the first in their schools to be vaccinated, some nurses say they hope to lead by example, inspiring others in the community to get vaccinated too, when their time comes.
“Every Concord nurse is getting it, we are all comfortable with the safety and efficacy,” Stewart said. “The data on its efficacy and safety are really good, and we are really excited for teachers to get it so we can reopen schools.”
Other school employees, including K-12 teachers and staff, will be vaccinated in Phase 2 of New Hampshire’s vaccine rollout, according to the state’s vaccination draft plan. The exact date for when Phase 2 will begin remains undefined.
Gesen said that in the meantime, she has been emailing her educator colleagues with facts and information about the vaccine, to help them feel informed.
“I have encouraged people to trust the science and look forward to being able to take that step,” Gesen said. “If they see me go through it okay, hopefully that will encourage others.”