Greater Latrobe School District starts vaccinating staff, sees light at the end of the tunnel – TribLIVE

The Greater Latrobe School District staff members who lined up Saturday to get covid vaccines said the shots gave them a glimmer of hope that the pandemic could be nearing its end.

“I was thrilled,” said Renee Gyory, a secretary and one of the first district employees to be vaccinated. “It’s positive; it’s what we need. The sooner everyone’s vaccinated, the sooner we can move on with normal life.”

The district vaccinated 200 employees Saturday, with hopes to vaccinate about 200 more next week.

“It’s a huge, huge relief, as you might imagine,” Superintendent Georgia Teppert said. “It’s another safety measure. We still can’t let our guard down, because you still have to wear your mask, you still have to social distance. But it’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Teppert did not get vaccinated because of the limited number of doses available. More than 400 district staff members said they were interested in receiving the vaccine, according to Assistant Superintendent Mike Porembka, but The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Latrobe had only 200 doses.

Many staff members agreed to wait, Porembka said. Of those included in the first wave, priority was given by age, with older staff members going first.

“We were hoping that before the kids got back and we actively got back into having school again, we were going to be able to have something available to stave off or lessen the impact (of the virus),” said James Shawley, a custodian who got vaccinated. “I think it’s a sign that our country is finally climbing out of this slump that we’re in, and we might be able to get back to normal.”

‘Wild west’ in vaccine hunt

Greater Latrobe is one of the few school districts that have been able to get vaccines. School employees are slated to be vaccinated in phase 1B — the second stage of the state’s rollout plan. The state is still on phase 1A, which initially included first responders, medical workers and nursing home patients.

However, some pharmacies had extra doses after administering vaccines to their patients in the 1A category. These pharmacies were allowed to move on to phase 1B, according to the state Department of Health.

Greater Latrobe worked with the Pennsylvania State Education Association and The Medicine Shoppe to receive vaccines. Ligonier Valley School District staff members were vaccinated previously by LVRx Pharmacy in Ligonier.

Deals like this likely will be harder to come by after the state last week expanded phase 1A to include all residents 65 and older as well as anyone older than 16 with certain health conditions.

Education officials say the lack of clear guidance from the state has made it frustrating for individual school districts struggling to strike deals with pharmacies to get vaccines.

“It’s become kind of a wild west of districts trying to fend for themselves in terms of securing vaccinations, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be,” said Jason Conway, executive director of Westmoreland Intermediate Unit.

Because of the expansion of phase 1A, most school districts will likely have to wait until vaccines are more widely available, said Fritz Fekete, Southwestern Pennsylvania advocacy coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

“It’s very difficult, and there’s a lot of frustration about the availability, because people want to go back to school,” he said. “I don’t even know if you can call it a process. It’s chaotic.”

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, or via Twitter .

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