The Town of Brookline and many other towns throughout the state have prioritized providing COVID-19 vaccines to communities such as the elderly and teachers. (ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ/SAGAMORE STAFF)
The Town of Brookline and many other towns throughout the state have prioritized providing COVID-19 vaccines to communities such as the elderly and teachers.


Early vaccine distribution begins with support for teachers

June 22, 2021

Despite having plans formerly used to combat the H1N1 influenza virus that were created after the “Amerithrax” case of 2001, the state chose to fight the COVID-19 pandemic using a new strategy.

According to Emergency Management Coordinator for Brookline Cheryl Snyder, the town is prepared to offer programs as soon as it is able, even though the town has not yet had an opportunity to run clinics to vaccinate its residents.

“We would all like to have as much [of the] vaccine as anybody but unfortunately the way the state has decided to roll out vaccines is not what the town’s plans called for. It’s not what we would wish but we are working within the rules that have been established,” Snyder said.

Synder said this strategy for vaccine rollout left cities without plans for their residents.

“At the end of January or early February, the state determined that they would prefer to set up mass vaccination sites rather than provide vaccines to local municipalities to distribute to their residents,” Snyder said. “So the plan that Brookline and many cities across Massachusetts had was not put into effect, because the vaccine has been directed primarily to mass vaccination sites.”

According to Snyder, the mass vaccination sites the state chose to use at places like Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium were effective at vaccinating large quantities of people quickly, but left out segments of the population that are harder to reach.

“For older people, people with disabilities, people with problems with transportation access and people with language issues, mass vaccination sites are not exactly the right place to hit those vulnerable populations,” Snyder said.

At both the federal and state level, there have been programs introduced to address the discrepancies, especially aimed at people in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living. Snyder said Brookline has been able to participate in one such program offered by the state.

“The state started a program in February to vaccinate people living in low income housing by bringing vaccines directly to the location where those vulnerable populations live. The Brookline Housing Authority did take part and partnered with the Brookline Health Department and Emergency Management to provide those vaccines using the Medical Reserve Corps,” Snyder said.

Despite the challenges the town has faced and potential inconveniences of waitlists and appointments, Snyder said getting a vaccine is still incredibly important and will help return life to a new normal.

“Being isolated from our friends and family for the past year has been horrifying in many ways for people. Mental health, physical health and our general wellbeing has been impacted,” Snyder said. “The sooner everyone who can get vaccinated gets vaccinated, the sooner we can go back to life as we know it.”

Team Vaccine: getting teachers vaccinated

Despite the roadblocks that made it hard for the people who needed vaccines to get them, some groups emerged with a mission to alleviate stress for teachers. One of these groups, “Team Vaccine,” was started by teachers Joslyn Vendola and Lindsay Davis. At its height, six female staff members, in addition to Vendola and Davis, were working together to get other colleagues vaccines: Sara Aggeler, Astrid Allen, Jennifer Breneisen, Shelley Mains, Danielle Rabina and Kristina Tobey.

Vendola, a teacher and leader in the ExCEL program, said she came up with the idea for Team Vaccine while texting with Davis, a Spanish teacher.

“Ms. Davis and I just said, ‘You know what, we’re starting to figure out how to get these appointments, so let’s put it up to the staff, see if anybody wants some help with it.’” Vendola said.

Vendola said that Team Vaccine’s success was in part due to the group’s ability to make appointments systematically because of their coordination and ability to work together.

“There were lots of individual people looking for their one appointment, but we ended up having five, six, seven teachers who were all in communication with each other, and with a team of us looking for the whole group, we were able to book appointments quickly,” Vendola said.

Vendola said that Team Vaccine was far more successful than she had even hoped it would be.

“We ended up scheduling around 80 appointments for coworkers. It was just ‘let’s see what we can do,’ and I was a little nervous that we would get a lot more people than we could manage, which ended up not being the case at all,” Vendola said.

Vendola said that the way that appointments were scheduled made Team Vaccine necessary.

“People just kept pouring in at first. Teachers and I’m sure anybody eligible was staying up all night trying to get these appointments, but lots of people were doing that, so the appointments were going very quickly, and they weren’t able to get them,” Vendola said.

Dr. Jason Tong is a physics teacher who received the vaccine from Vendola’s group. Tong said he tried to book an appointment for himself, but could not get one until Team Vaccine took it out of his hands.

“I tried to book an appointment myself and it was a little frustrating and time consuming, so I just let it ride for a little bit. But several teachers, including Ms. Vendola volunteered to make appointments for people so I said, ‘What the heck, I’ll take them up on it.’ The next day, they scheduled me for an appointment down in Dorchester,’” Tong said.

Tong said that he was incredibly grateful to Team Vaccine for the work that they did for the high school’s staff.

“They spent incredible hours late at night, early in the morning doing this as community service and for that I am very grateful. The fact that they were able to make it so painless for me was tremendous. That I do really appreciate,” Tong said.

Vendola said that she learned a lot through working with the rest of Team Vaccine.

“I think the biggest [lesson] is if you create a priority group for anything, it’s really important to try to anticipate what the barriers are going to be for this priority group. If you’re going to prioritize people, remove the barriers that are going to be in the way of them accessing the things that they’re supposed to have priority to. Otherwise you’re not really prioritizing them, right?”

Adopt a Teacher: parents helping teachers stay safe

The stress of spending time to find a vaccine appointment for people with busy schedules, such as teachers, was the reason Lawrence parent and high school alumni, Masha Leuner, created the Adopt a Teacher program.

This program, originally exclusively at the Lawrence School, paired staff members with volunteer parents willing to help their assigned staff member book vaccination appointments.

Leuner’s experience booking vaccine appointments for her parents had a huge impact on her. Leuner said the time commitment necessary for getting a slot, even staying up until midnight one night to secure the appointment.

“I was making appointments for my parents, and I realized that it was very time consuming, and I realized that you would be sitting at the computer for hours just to get an appointment because the demand far outstretched the supply,” Leuner said.

After her less-than-ideal experience booking appointments for her parents, Leuner got the idea for her program.

“I realized that, ‘Oh my god, the teachers are going to have a crazy hard time doing this!’ because when they’re in a classroom, they can’t sit in front of a screen, and they don’t have all that much free time,” Leuner said. “It seemed like an unfair expectation to place on teachers who are already working really hard, and I wanted to find a way to help them.”

The program started the first week of March, coincidentally the same week that President Biden gave a press conference stating that teachers would be put at the top of the list for vaccines. This announcement blew up the program, which grew enormously overnight.

“Once he [Biden] announced that press conference, CVS decided that it would open availability for teachers. By the end of our first week, our volunteers were able to book about 60 slots, just at Lawrence,” Leuner said.

The program’s success impacted those directly involved and the atmosphere of the community.

“I think teachers were feeling anxious about COVID-19, and they were feeling underappreciated by the parent community, and this one project brought everyone together in the most wonderful way possible,” Leuner said. “Teachers realized the parents were stepping out and showing solidarity and being supportive with the purest of hearts.”

After the Adopt a Teacher program’s triumph at Lawrence, the other public schools implemented the same system at their school, where it was just as successful.

Vice Principle of the Pierce School, Jamie Yadoff, oversaw the performance of the program as it was implemented at her own school.

“It was completely effective in the sense that everybody who wanted an appointment got one within a few days,” Yadoff said.

Yadoff also noted the same positive impact on her colleagues at Pierce that Leuner noticed at Lawrence.

“All of the teachers that approached me about it were very grateful and felt very relieved because obviously they’re busy teaching all day, so they can’t be clicking refresh on the page, waiting for an appointment to pop up,” Yadoff said. “Having that burden taken off their plate was very reassuring for people.”

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