At the Rowan College of South Jersey COVID-19 Mega-Vaccination Site, Gloucester County Institute of Technology Teacher Theresa Kerney was among the first educators in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday, March 6, as the state kicked off the eligibility period for teachers, educational support professionals (ESPs) and childcare professionals. Other educators who were among the first at the RCSJ site were Joanne Walton, Danielle Davis, April Crowley, Lawrence Hurley and Suzanne Belding.
At a press conference following the six educators’ shots, NJEA President Marie Blistan and Kerney joined Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Rep. Donald Norcross, Rep. Tom Malinowski, acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan, and Commissioner of Health Judy Persichilli to mark the occasion. Kerney spoke first and introduced the governor.
“I’ve been an educator for 34 years, and this pandemic has been the most challenging, stressful time for all those years of teaching,” Kerney said. “Providing this vaccination opportunity to teachers and support staff will greatly reduce the danger that COVID-19 currently presents to everyone in New Jersey. It will allow educators across the state to continue working safely and provide our students with the great education they all deserve.”
Offering a dose of reality in the midst of the optimism created by the vaccines, Murphy announced the number of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID-19 as of March 6. The broader availability of the vaccine, he said, will move those numbers in a better direction.
“What we are witnessing today is about doing what is best for Theresa and her colleagues not just here but around the state, and what is best for all or our educational communities in getting all of our schools back open safely for in-person instruction,” Murphy said. “These have always been our goals. This is the goal I set out when I announced on Monday that it was time for our educators and educational support professionals to get up to bat for their vaccinations.”
Murphy noted that enabling educators vaccinated will require flexibility in the scheduling of appointments.
“There are many thousands who are newly eligible, and we can’t expect them to simply walk away from their students mid-lesson for an appointment,” Murphy said. “Working across the board, and at all levels, we will have in place the vaccination program that works best for our educators, from hours that don’t eat into the school day to dedicated lanes at mega-sites.”
Blistan noting the significant impact of educator vaccinations for everyone in the state.
“It’s great to be here with fellow educators to witness them getting the vaccine and the relief and excitement they have of seeing their students more regularly inside of our classrooms and our schools,” Blistan said. “With 1.4 million students and well over 200,000 adults working in our schools, by vaccinating all of our educators we are making New Jersey safer.”
Blistan also lauded Murphy’s proposed state budget for the coming fiscal year.
“He has put funds in place that will not only get us through now, but that will take care of our students’ needs when we come back full time and we are completely out of this pandemic,” Blistan said.
She thanked Sen. Sweeney for his responsiveness to the needs of school buildings, particularly regarding ventilation systems. She also thanked Sweeney, along with Sen. Teresa Ruiz and the governor, for increased internet access for families, getting electronic devices into the hands of students who needed them.
“They followed through in unprecedented ways, and I think there’s no one in this country who did more than those three individuals did to make sure that our students had those devices.”
Blistan noted more higher education staff must be added to the list of those eligible for the vaccine.
“I urge all of us on this stage to work together so that this vaccine will also be accessible to them right away,” Blistan said.
Educators who have not yet scheduled their vaccination, may go to covid19.nj.gov/vaccine to access registration information.