Wendie Bourgoin stands in front of Lewiston’s Connors Elementary School where COVID-19 vaccination clinics may be held exclusively for all Androscoggin County school staff. The Lewiston Middle School nurse said, “The sooner we can get educators vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to school full time.” Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Clinics specifically for all Androscoggin County teachers and school staff are being planned to help vaccinate them against COVID-19 as soon as possible.

“We hope to offer them March 12 and 13,” St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center spokesman Stephen Costello said. “We’re working on it.”

Initially the St. Mary’s school clinics were to be offered only to those ages 60 and up, according to state mandates. But that changed late Wednesday when Gov. Janet Mills announced all school staff are now eligible for vaccines, regardless of age.

Mills announced her administration will align with President Biden’s directive Tuesday to make prekindergarten to grade 12 staff and child care providers eligible.

“I share the president’s desire to vaccinate school staff and child care workers as quickly as possible, just as I want to see all Maine people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Mills said in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work day and night with our health care providers to get shots into as many arms as possible.”

Statewide, 36,400 school staff are now eligible for shots, plus 16,000 child care providers.

Before the governor’s announcement, St. Mary’s school clinics were planned for Androscoggin County’s 785 school workers age 60 and older; and all 785 would have received their shots March 12 and 13.

Costello said with eligibility opening to school staff of all ages, it will take more than two days.

“We’re going to have to regroup,” he said. “We’ll be meeting with the superintendents tomorrow. The clinic will be opened up to all school employees.”

 Costello said he’ll leave it up to the schools to decide who gets the shots when. “In some ways it will make it easier” in that age won’t have to be verified. “We may try to add a day, Sunday, if we have the supply.”

More clinics for school staff only will be scheduled as vaccines are available, he said. A likely site will be Lewiston’s large Connors Elementary School, but the location has not been finalized.

Lewiston School Superintendent Jake Langlais said the school clinics are welcome news.

“I’m very excited we’re finding a way to facilitate vaccinations for school staff,” he said Wednesday. The school clinics will avoid teachers and others from having to find appointments, and it will help keep schools open.

“If staff gets vaccinated on their own, they might have to call out of work that day, then if they have symptoms the next day they could call out,” he said. “So schools in the whole county would have to monitor staffing levels minute-to-minute to decide if they had enough staff to keep their schools open.”

The risk of closing schools because of lack of staff at a time when schools are already doing hybrid learning days would put students and families in tough positions, Langlais said.

Firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement have been deemed as necessary for receiving vaccines, Langlais said, “and that makes perfect sense to me.” But in the COVID world, law enforcement has been told to limit interaction with people, something school staff cannot do.

“Teachers go to work every day and have people come in from all over the city who have been exposed to who knows what, and work with (students) in a close proximity every single day,” Langlais said. “That’s a big difference.”

The change from Gov. Mills is good news to educators.

Maine Education Association President Grace Leavitt said teachers appreciate President Biden and Gov. Mills for prioritizing school workers. The MEA and its prekindergarten to grade 12 members “are breathing a collective sigh of relief tonight.”

The MEA has been pushing for the change announced Wednesday, saying safe schools are critical.

Lewiston Middle School nurse Wendie Bourgoin said she’s thrilled the school clinics will be offered. She and other school nurses “are more than willing to help.”

Providing shots to school staffers is a start to getting students back in school and ending remote lessons, she said. “The hybrid system is not working for students. The sooner we can get educators vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to school full time. Vaccination is going to be the single most important to put the fears to rest.”

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