Fort Campbell is ramping up its COVID-19 vaccination rollout with a second dose of Pfizer shots for Department of Defense Education Activity staff.

Dozens of DoDEA employees rolled up their sleeves Feb. 12 at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital as part of a larger effort to safely return students to classrooms by immunizing teachers.

“The garrison team has been incredible to work with as we developed a plan for ensuring as many DoDEA employees as possible could receive the vaccine,” said Joshua Adams, Kentucky Community superintendent, DoDEA Americas Southeast District. “This is a critical piece of keeping our schools safe during the pandemic.”

DoDEA teachers and support staff are considered frontline essential workers under the current Department of Defense schema for vaccine eligibility, said Col. Patrick T. Birchfield, BACH commander.

Other eligible groups include health care providers and support personnel, emergency services, public safety personnel military treatment facility health care support personnel, people over 75, those preparing to deploy outside the U.S. and critical national capabilities.

“These groups are essential workers within our DoD workforce and it is important for us to ensure these teachers and support personnel were offered the vaccine,” Birchfield said.

Erika Bowers, a third grade teacher at Andre Lucas Elementary, was among those lined up for the vaccine and said BACH was well-prepared for them.

Bowers and some other teachers said they experienced low-grade fevers and mild symptoms after their first dose but were ready for the second dose because the benefits far outweigh the risks.

“I’m just very thankful to get the shot,” Bowers said. “I feel DoDEA cares about the safety of our students, and they care about the safety of our parents and educators.”

The vaccinations are an important step in both protecting the community and moving back to traditional learning models by limiting community exposure to COVID-19, she said.

“Brick-and-mortar education, in my opinion, far exceeds online learning and you can push students further when you’re one-on-one with them,” Bowers said. “I’m thankful this gives us an opportunity to stay in the classroom and be healthy.”

Shauna Graves, a third grade teacher at Barsanti Elementary, said in-person learning is especially valuable for younger students.

“It’s very important to allow us to have more small group interaction, because it’s kind of hard teaching little kids when you have to be 6-feet away from them,” Graves said. “We’ve had to quarantine two times, so I think this will be great and hopefully we won’t have to quarantine anymore.”

DoDEA’s ongoing social distancing and masking requirements have done well to keep students and staff safe, Graves said. But she decided to get the vaccine as an extra layer of protection.

Protecting those closest to her was enough to convince Fort Campbell High School teacher Kesha Ladd, normally a shot-averse person, to take part in the vaccination effort.

“I’m not a big fan of vaccinations,” said Ladd, who teaches students at all grade levels. “I don’t usually get the flu shot, but I got the vaccination for my students. My dad just went through radiation and chemotherapy and my mom has heart issues, so I did it for them too.”

FCHS guidance counselor Kimberly Butts said DoDEA also has made vaccinations available sooner than many other school districts, so teachers like Ladd can take precautions against the pandemic.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity and grateful to be able to get the vaccine so quickly,” Butts said. “I just feel like it’s important to do everything we can to help with the pandemic.”

Overcoming the pandemic and returning to normalcy is important for students across the district, she said.

“I think it’s key to our students, for their education, social well-being and emotional well-being, for them to be back in the building,” Butts said. “So, anything we can do to make that happen faster is a plus.”