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Heritage Hall is expected to serve as a COVID-19 vaccine administration site in the future in Athens, Ohio.

Athens City School District educators receive coronavirus vaccines

The Athens City School District, or ACSD, distributed vaccines Friday to its K-12 educators along with the Federal Hocking Local School District, Alexander Local School District and Nelsonville-York City School District following the request of Gov. Mike DeWine. 

With the intent of getting students back in school by early March, Ohio county health departments have pushed to vaccinate educators as soon as possible. While the process of the vaccination rollout has been slow statewide, Athens County has worked quickly with its vaccine response. 

In response to the limited amounts of COVID-19 vaccine, counties have made a borrowing system in order to effectively vaccinate large numbers of people. The slow vaccination rollout is a result of this trading system. 

“We are one of 10 counties in the state that are getting the vaccine this week so we can vaccinate our school personnel,” Health Commissioner at the Athens City-County Health Department, James Gaskell, said. “Next week, we are not going to get as much vaccine as we would have hoped because some of our vaccine will be directed to other school districts.”

Administrator of the Athens City-County Health Department Jack Pepper meets weekly with the superintendents of Athens County to discuss COVID-19 and vaccination rollout. In January, the opportunity arose for vaccination of educators. The superintendents discussed a vaccination plan and decided to contact Gov. DeWine, superintendent of the ACSD, Tom Gibbs, said. 

“We were pleasantly surprised when the governor's office listened and offered us the opportunity to be in the first full week of counties where educators were vaccinated,” Gibbs said. 

According to Gaskell, it was Athens County’s quick response that led them to receive the vaccine early on.

“Every single dose of vaccine that we have received in Athens County, we've gotten into arms and vaccinated people within a few days of receiving vaccine,” Gaskell said. “So we've been a good steward if you will…we have a good reputation with the Ohio Department of Health.” 

Those eligible for the vaccine included teachers, long-term substitutes, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, environmental building service workers, principals, superintendents, coaches, office personnel, aides and non-teaching staff. 

In order to sign up, those eligible in the ACSD filled out a Google form and provided basic information for the school to organize. Gibbs was assisted by several faculty in sorting through the forms and sending out the scheduling information and consent forms to each employee. 

Out of about 330 permanent employees in ACSD, about 280 signed up for vaccination, Gibbs said. Most of the refusals were from those who already received the vaccine as nurses or because of their age. 

“We didn't require the vaccination at this point,” Gibbs said. “Part of that is because it's still in emergency-use mode, and we just felt like it was inappropriate to require a vaccination when it's under those conditions.”

On the vaccination day, 1,100 people were scheduled to arrive at Ohio University’s new Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine building, Heritage Hall

“The new Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Medical School has opened their doors to us…that site is ideal for vaccinating large numbers of people and probably, that is really the only site in Athens County where we could deliver this much vaccine to people,” Gaskell said.

Employees from ACSD were scheduled to show up from 3:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Twenty-five people would show up in 15-minute increments. Of the 322 people signed up, 319 were vaccinated. Those who were not vaccinated due to quarantining will be getting their shot this week, Gibbs said.

Heritage Hall had six different vaccination stations set up with two ACSD nurses assisting with vaccination, Gibbs said. 

“They just kind of came in one or two at a time. I checked them off of our list, welcomed them and then the health department got them registered,” Gibbs said. “It was very well organized…it has been a great partnership.”

Those vaccinated Friday will receive their second vaccination on Feb. 26, following the exact same schedule. This will lead up to the ACSD spring break so more in-person classes can resume on March 15. 

“It's really exciting that we're going to have access to these (vaccines) and that the state bumped our county up so…we can get more kids back to school,” Athens City School Board President Sean Parsons, said. 


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