IMMY Covid Vaccine Clinic-Embassy

Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister speaks Monday during the IMMY vaccination clinic at Embassy Suites.

Judy Schneringer was feeling blessed Monday morning.

“My heart is just racing because I’m so excited I got to get this vaccine, because I am a teacher and I want to be in the classroom and I want to be safe with my kids, and I am blessed that we had this,” said Schneringer, a second grade teacher at Kennedy Elementary. “I’m just excited.”

After a school year of teaching two classes’ worth of students in person and by Zoom, and contracting COVID-19 in October, Schneringer received the COVID vaccination Monday morning.

She was one of thousands of Oklahomans, many of them teachers, who were able to get vaccinated at a mega-clinic hosted at Norman’s Embassy Suites Monday. IMMY Labs, OU Health Services and the Cleveland County Health Department vaccinated 9,841 people Monday as a new group of Oklahomans became eligible to receive their first doses.

“It’s overwhelming to say the least,” said Sara King, spokesperson for the Cleveland County Health Department. “Throughout this process, we as a county team have really viewed it as such an honor as we’ve worked through this year for these different populations.”

Monday marked the first day that teachers across the state, along with Oklahomans under 65 with comorbidities, became officially eligible for the vaccine. Norman Public Schools spokesperson Wes Moody said Monday morning that while the district didn’t yet have a count on how many teachers and staff would be vaccinated at the event, surveys showed high interest from NPS employees.

“This is truly a great day for Norman Public Schools,” NPS Superintendent Nick Migliorino said in a statement Monday. “We simply can’t express enough how grateful we are for our ongoing partnerships with IMMY and OSDH. Thanks to Sean Bauman and his entire team, NPS teachers and staff have the ability to be vaccinated today.

“We know these vaccines are effective and getting them to our teachers and staff is a huge step toward getting back to normal in our schools and in our community. We also know that this will provide a tremendous amount of peace of mind for our teachers and let them continue their excellent work with even more confidence.”

Between IMMYLabs, the county health department, Norman Regional Health Systems and OU Health Services, there were over 230 volunteers split up in two shifts running the clinic.

“This is not one of the biggest, this is the biggest [clinic] in the state that’s ever happened,” Sean Bauman, CEO of IMMYLabs, said Monday. “This is a landmark day for the state of Oklahoma.”

Bauman said that he hasn’t been able to find any place in the country that was able to vaccinate 10,000-plus people in a day like Monday’s event.

IMMYLabs has been a part of every step of the fight against COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, the company began running COVID-19 tests in its lab, and has been conducting COVID-19 tests on patients across the state.

Monday, it hosted the state’s biggest vaccine clinic to date.

“We feel blessed to have the opportunity to help serve our neighbors,” Bauman said. “Our normal business is selling diagnostics products across the globe and so we don’t sell a whole lot of that in the State of Oklahoma. So to be able to give back to our local partners and our neighbors has been a tremendous opportunity.”

For teachers and administrators, receiving the vaccine Monday was more than just a moment of professional relief and security. Just as they’re concerned with the wellness of their students and fellow teachers or staff, they’re worried about the health of their family at home.

“It was truly a weight being lifted off my shoulders,” said Jessica Eschbach, Norman Public Schools’ teacher of the year and an innovative learning coach at Norman North. “I feel like since this all began, not only have I been worried about my coworkers and my students, but also my parents who are in that high-risk group and my own kids at home. So, to be given this opportunity, it just felt like I was one of the luckiest people in Oklahoma, and I’m just so excited and grateful.”

Brian Hinson, district athletic director at Oklahoma City’s Santa Fe South, said COVID’s effect on his family made his vaccination all the more important to him.

“I’ve lost some family members to COVID this year, so being able to get this shows that I’m going to do my part to try to keep my other family members safe,” Hinson said as he rested after receiving his shot. “If you would have asked me a couple of months ago, ‘would I take the shot?’ I probably would have had to think about it, but in recent times, it was a definite yes for me.”

Teachers across the state have felt the direct impact of COVID-19 in their classrooms and workplaces this year as well.

“Being away from the students has been hard,” Eric Parker, an eighth grade teacher in Oklahoma City, said Monday. “A lot of the students I deal with and work with in general need that personal interaction. They need to be out of their house, they need somewhere different, some space where they can just be themselves.”

Since the pandemic arrived, Parker said his main goal as a teacher has been making sure his students are OK and that they are getting through these trying times.

“There are more pressing things at the moment than if we’re going to make it through this section,” he said. “‘Learning is going to come, but that’s been our job first and foremost at this point is just making sure they’re getting through.”

Educators Monday urged their colleagues across the state to get vaccinated as soon as they’re able to help create healthier, safer school environments.

In a media appearance Monday, Interim Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye said the state hopes to vaccinate all teachers who are interested by spring break.

Eschbach, who received the vaccine Monday alongside other statewide Teacher of the Year finalists, said the vaccine is a turning point for educators and learning.

“It is safe, it’s FDA-approved, it’s going to help us get into that new normal soon and get us back to what we love doing, so if (teachers) have the opportunity and it’s safe for them to do so, I encourage every single person in Norman to get the shot,” Eschbach said.

Emma Keith covers Norman Public Schools and the University of Oklahoma for The Transcript. Reach her at ekeith@normantranscript.com or at @emma_ckeith.

Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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Emma Keith covers the coronavirus pandemic and education for The Norman Transcript, with a focus on Norman Public Schools and The University of Oklahoma. She is a 2019 OU graduate.

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Reese Gorman covers elections, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic for The Norman Transcript. He started as an intern in May of 2020 and transitioned into his current position as a staff writer in August of 2020.