On February 24, 2021, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper opened vaccination eligibility to educators and schooling staff. And on March 3, the state broadened eligibility to all frontline essential workers. Atrium Health’s pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Ahmed and pediatric specialty medical director Dr. Nuse answer some of the community’s top questions about vaccinations.

Coronavirus Updates, Your Health | one year ago

Vaccines for Our Teachers: Making Steps Towards Safe In-Person Instruction

On February 24, 2021, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper opened vaccination eligibility to educators and schooling staff. And on March 3, the state broadened eligibility to all frontline essential workers. Atrium Health’s pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Ahmed and pediatric specialty medical director Dr. Nuse answer some of the community’s top questions about vaccinations. Also, Kim Tuttle, the 2019 Teacher of the Year for CMS, expands on the value of vaccination to the teaching profession.

March 2021 marks almost a year since in-person learning closed across the country for the majority of schools. Since then, the lives of millions of Americans have adjusted to virtual education solutions. The lack of available in-person education has triggered an unprecedented crisis in which parents around the country have lost a vital source of support. Consequently, over 5 million women were forced to make the tough but necessary decision to leave their job   to take care of their children.

To support families and to revitalize the economy, states are working hard to safely reopen schools. As part of this approach, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper expanded vaccination eligibility to educators and schooling staff beginning as early as February 24. This expands vaccine eligibility to about 240,000 more people. This is exciting news, especially since Atrium Health just received its first 6,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose. The majority of these vaccines will be given to educators

Naturally, more vaccine availability prompts questions from the community. To respond to some of these questions, Atrium Health Levine Children’s hosted a Facebook Live panel with experts including Amina Ahmed, MD, epidemiologist and pediatric infectious disease expert, Lyn Nuse MD, specialty medical director of general pediatrics and Kimberly Tuttle, the 2019 Teach of the Year for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. In this panel, the three professionals discussed the vaccine and its effects on public education. Here are the main takeaways from this important question and answer event.

Amina Ahmed, MDQ: As we move back to in-person instruction, why should teachers who plan to be in the classroom consider getting the vaccine?

A | Dr. Ahmed: Through the pandemic, we have learned a lot about COVID-19 transmission. Fortunately, we have found that transmission can be mitigated with extra measures, such as universal masking, social distancing, and washing hands.

We have also learned that the virus spreads in all directions, that it's not just adult to child, but children can also transmit the virus to adults. Vaccinations will help by contributing to herd immunity which will decrease transmission even further.

Q: How do the vaccines work once they are administered? Can you break it down so it’s easy for us to understand?

A | Dr. Ahmed: Many are concerned that these vaccines are new, but the technology to make them was actually developed 20 years ago. The vaccine delivers a small “nanoparticle” into the body and replicates the virus’s receptor — not the virus itself.

This prompts the body to make antibodies against the COVID-19 receptor’s protein. As a result, your body produces antibodies to fight the virus without getting a live virus. There is no live virus in an mRNA vaccine and no way for this protein to make more copies of the virus in your body.

Q: Why do we need two doses for some of these vaccines? And why is it important to get the 2nd dose?

A | Dr. Ahmed: For the two-dose vaccines, the second dose boosts your immunity so that it’s high enough to protect you for a longer period. Simply, the second dose boosts the response of the first dose.

Though there is already some protection with the first dose, the second dose gets you to the 90%+ effectiveness range.

From the latest data, it takes about 2-3 weeks after the second dose to reach the optimal immune level. The same duration applies to the one-dose options that have shown promising results. However, even after vaccination, continue to wear a mask, since we still don’t know that transmission isn't still possible after vaccination.

Q: Are there any vaccine side effects? What are some top tips to be prepared?

A | Dr. Ahmed: The current COVID-19 vaccines can have some local and mild reactions, such as soreness at the site of the shot, fatigue, aches, and a fever. However, these symptoms usually happen after the second dose — if at all. Physicians typically inform people to take it easy the day after the second dose. Don’t do strenuous exercise or anything that requires a lot of energy.

It’s okay to take Motrin or Tylenol after the shot to reduce the symptoms. However, it’s not advised to take any painkillers before the vaccine because it can reduce your immune response. Overall, the reactions are mild and don’t last long. Also, the older you are, the less likely you are to have a reaction.

nuse-lynQ: Why is it important that teachers and childcare workers get the vaccine and how can it keep families healthy?

A | Dr. Nuse: The vaccine has been successful in providing an extra level of protection by decreasing the amount of infection in the community. When there is less infection, there is less community spread. This is the next step to providing the best protection against future infections. 

Q: Please discuss the importance of having kids in school for in-person learning.

A | Dr. Nuse: All of us know that school is much more than just instruction. It’s social interaction — learning how to get along with others, and it’s also a source of health and nutrition. School also provides structure, routine, and predictability. Overall, getting them back in school will have significant improvements in all aspects of their lives.

Q: What are some virus prevention tips as teachers wait for vaccines?

A | Dr. Nuse: We should follow what has been proven to work. The schools that have stayed open during the pandemic have been successful at keeping transmission rates low by sticking to universal masking, social distancing, and hand washing. Schools that look to reopen can look to these examples and follow their lead.

Also, more recent studies state that the transmission is minimal if we follow infection prevention guidelines. It's also proven that as long as we follow those rules, school transmission is minuscule compared to what’s observed in the general population.

Kimberly TuttleQ: What is the overall consensus about how teachers are feeling about COVID-19 and vaccinations?

A | Tuttle: It's no small feat to speak for over 10,000 colleagues. Overall, we are stressed, and the pandemic has been hard on us – but I walked into my classroom yesterday and it was a great feeling to come back and see my students. We, as educators, wanted to be vaccinated before we walked back in. We’re very happy to fulfill our roles, but we wanted to be safe first.

Q: It’s been almost a year since the students haven’t been back in school. How has this affected them?

A | Tuttle: We often hear about what the kids have missed, but I want to talk about the positive. I’ve seen so many great things happen with my students and my own kids. Our students have been able to navigate the tech world more than any other generation. I can have more one-on-one conversations with students, and I can do this in breakout rooms online. I didn’t have a chance to do this as much in school because there were always other students nearby.

Our students are also more resilient. Today’s teens are pretty amazing. Our kids know what’s going on in the world and can take on these new changes. I’ve seen more kids ask for help when before it was often seen as an embarrassment. Now they are okay and are more apt to say, “Can you help me?”

In-person learning is also great. The past few days with the kids back have been so meaningful. The kids don’t want to leave. They want to ask more questions. They are hungry to be back at school, and the teachers want to be back too.

Q: Do teachers have concerns about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?

A | Tuttle: At first, there were concerns because we didn’t know a lot about it. But I think now that we know more, the better things are. More teachers are ready to take the vaccine. There's a better understanding about the situation and more information, which helps teachers choose the vaccine and return to the classroom without fear.

Q: What do you want to say to teachers?

A | Tuttle: I’m reminded of the picture book I Am Enough. In this book, it says that when it becomes tough, 'together we can come together and say, “I am enough.”' I want teachers to know that they are enough. This time is hard but you’re enough because we are in a position and profession in which we truly are molding and shaping the future generation. This is the field that we chose and were meant to be in.

Learn More about COVID-19 Vaccination

Atrium Health is working hard to open more appointments for our eligible community members. We will add new appointments as soon as more vaccine supply becomes available. Visit AtriumHealth.org/COVID19Vaccine for the latest updates and scheduling info.