'Been waiting a long time': Stamford teachers thrilled to sign up for COVID vaccines

Photo of Ignacio Laguarda
Diane Phanos, president of Stamford teachers union, holds a sign in front of the Stamford Government Center on May 21, 2020, urging city officials to fund Stamford schools.

Diane Phanos, president of Stamford teachers union, holds a sign in front of the Stamford Government Center on May 21, 2020, urging city officials to fund Stamford schools.

Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media

STAMFORD — For John Corcoran, getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a step toward getting back into a school building.

The Turn of River Middle School educator is one of a handful of teachers who have been allowed to work from home this school year due to health conditions.

On Monday, he said he was thrilled to finally have access to the vaccine, and already made a call to Stamford Hospital to inquire about appointments.

“As soon as they let me sign up, I’m in,” he said. “I’m excited. I’ve been waiting a long time.”

Teachers will be allowed to be vaccinated starting in March, according to information released by Gov. Ned Lamont on Monday. Access for additional age groups has also been expanded, allowing those between the ages of 55 and 64 to sign up for the vaccine, starting on March 1, and those between the ages of 45 and 54 on March 22. Connecticut residents between the ages of 16 and 44 will follow in April and May.

“In addition to the age-based eligibility, preK-12 school staff and teachers, and professional childcare providers will be eligible to receive the vaccine in March at dedicated clinics that will be set up specifically for those sectors,” read the press release from Lamont’s office.

It continued, “Educators and childcare professionals will soon receive information from their school administrators and employers on when their dedicated clinics will be provided.”

Stamford teachers Bettina Vaccaro stands outside of the Ferguson Library on the corner of Broad and Bedford Streets soliciting passing motorists to beep their horns as a car caravan of fellow teachers pass by on July 30, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. The teachers union, Stamford Education Association, participated in the CEA's

Stamford teachers Bettina Vaccaro stands outside of the Ferguson Library on the corner of Broad and Bedford Streets soliciting passing motorists to beep their horns as a car caravan of fellow teachers pass by on July 30, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. The teachers union, Stamford Education Association, participated in the CEA's "School Safety FIRST Car Caravan Rally" calling attention to safety concerns in the schools as Connecticut contemplated a return to classes in the fall.

Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media

All along, Corcoran has wanted to teach in front of students, but was advised not to by his doctors due to a significant cardiac history. Getting the vaccine won’t solve all of his concerns, he said, but could lead to him being in a classroom again.

“I will still wear my mask and still follow all protocols,” he said, of his eventual return to the school building.

Nonetheless, he said he will only go back if it is deemed safe by his physicians.

Diane Phanos, head of the Stamford Education Association teachers union, was relieved to hear the news about the vaccines.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this to happen,” she said.

But she, like teachers in the district, was quick to say the vaccine is not exactly a panacea. Safety guidelines would still need to be followed to ensure teachers stay healthy.

“The future goal is to have everyone go back, 100 percent, but you want to make sure it’s done safely,” she said.

Teachers went back into school buildings on Jan. 19 after about a month in which the district conducted classes remotely. Phanos said many educators had been hopeful they could get the vaccine before returning to buildings.

She said a questionnaire was sent to teachers recently and one of the questions was whether or not they would take the vaccine if available. She said about 90 percent said they would.

Over a weekend in late January, Stamford officials were set to vaccinate all teachers and school employees in the district. But that plan fell through only a few days prior, when the state revised its roll-out of the vaccine, excluding teachers from a place in the line for the time being.

About a week ago, the Stamford teacher’s union sent out a communication to all staff urging them to send an email to the state Department of Public Health.

“Educators want to return to the classroom; however, Connecticut needs to do what is safest for school staff, students, families, and Connecticut’s communities,” read the letter, penned by Phanos.

Members of the Stamford Board of Education also sent their own message to the state, in the hopes of getting teachers protected faster.

Laura Dickey, a teacher at Dolan Middle School, is still upset about Stamford’s initial vaccination effort falling through at the last minute.

“That’s just not fair,” she said.

She said she would get the vaccine, but feels it took too long for educators to finally make it to the front of the line.

“We are the front line workers,” she said. “We are exposed to hundreds of kids every day.”

Bettina Vaccaro, a teacher at Stark Elementary School, said the vaccine is the first step toward getting more students and teachers back into classrooms together.

“Teachers are the first ones who want students back in class but it needs to happen safely,” she said.

ignacio.laguarda@stamfordadvocate.com