In an historic moment, more than 350 teachers and staff from Taos Municipal School District, as well as surrounding area schools, will voluntarily receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine this week.
The vaccine roll out plan, provided by the New Mexico Dept. of Health, is currently in phase 1B, where frontline and essential workers, persons of age 75 or older, and persons of age 16 or older at risk of COVID complications, and now early education and k-12 teachers are eligible to register and receive the vaccine.
Taos Middle School became the new headquarters for Holy Cross Hospital to administer the immunizations to teachers. Plans have been in the works since last week, and teachers started to receive the vaccine as early as Wednesday (Jan. 13) morning.
Lillian Torrez, superintendent of Taos Municipal School District, said the voluntary process was offered to all staff of her district, not just teachers.
“We put out a survey to every staff member that needed to answer yes or no, yes they wanted to get the vaccine or no. If they don’t that’s fine, but most everyone wants the vaccine,” Torrez said. “We have about 353 employees, about 77 said no, but some of these staff members already received it somewhere else, and/or are in line already pre-registered so it makes sense that they continue that process.”
Torrez said the gymnasium at Taos Middle School isn’t just for Taos Municipal School District teachers and staff, but for teachers of all Taos County districts.
“So between all of us,we’ll open it up to not just our staff, but other people to get vaccinated,” she said. “The location isn’t just for us, we’re allowing everyone to get the vaccine there.”
Torrez said the vaccine phase plan to include teachers gives her hope that the school district can move forward with their plans to go into a hybrid teaching model after spring break.
“I think that’s going to help. It (the vaccine) will help the situation, it’s going to help us make a better decision to open face-to-face 25 percent,” she said adding that at 25 percent of classrooms, each student would complete one full day at school once a week.
Bill Patten, CEO of Holy Cross Hospital praised the collaborative efforts between the hospital, school district and Taos County. He touted Taos Middle School as an ideal location for the vaccine distribution headquarters because of the ample parking, and room to enforce social distance practices.
“It seems to be working well. Principal Cordova and his team have been very welcoming,” Patten said. “If they were to go back to in-person school, of course we would have to find a different location… So unless the school needs it we would really like to keep the pods there.”
Lenora Cisneros, Director of Administrative Services at Holy Cross Hospital said her team has been in contact and reached out to all districts in Taos county from Peñasco to Questa in an effort to get all the teachers and staff registered and scheduled over the next two days. She said the hospital is no longer doing the registration process, and those who have not been contacted need to register with the New Mexico Dept. of Health using vaccinenm.org.
Patten said 329 people are scheduled to receive the vaccine today, (Jan. 13) with 201 people scheduled for Thursday, (Jan. 14). He emphasized the fact that there is no out-of-pocket cost for the vaccine, and individual insurance would be billed for those who have it. Those without insurance don’t need to worry, the hospital will bill a federal program for the administrative costs of the vaccine.
“We do not ask anyone to pay anything to receive the vaccine,” he said, adding how next week the plan is to open the vaccine rollout to move on to the next group in Phase 1B, folks 75 or older. Patten encourages everyone, regardless of age and risk, to register for the vaccine online. From there, the system will contact individuals to make an appointment at the appropriate location and time.
“There are people, not teachers or school staff, thinking that this is a first-come, first-served event, it is not. We are asking people, if you do not have an appointment, do not come to this event,” he said. “We hope to have a time in the future for people to just drive up unscheduled, but we’re not there yet. So please don’t get in line or we will have to turn you away.”