Frank Gross, a substitute teacher at Brunswick High School, lifts a sleeve as he prepares to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the clinic at Brunswick Parks and Recreation on Friday. The clinic operated by Mid Coast-Parkview Health offered appointments for school staff members 60 and older. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

BRUNSWICK — Jean McGuigan breathed a sigh of relief Friday afternoon as she made her way from one end of the gymnasium to the other at the Brunswick Parks & Recreation Center shortly after receiving her first coronavirus vaccine.

An education technician at Morse High School in Bath, McGuigan spends about 95 percent of her school day within 3 feet of the special education students she works with. This year has been difficult with additional restrictions necessary for physical distancing, sanitizing and keeping students safe amid the pandemic.

“To be able to get vaccinated means I can keep my kids safer,” said McGuigan, 63. “Being in special education we have to work twice as hard. We have to do a lot of protective stuff because we’re within 3 feet of everybody.”

McGuigan was among several school employees who received their vaccines at the recreation center on Friday as part of a dedicated clinic for educators 60 and older. Maine announced the clinics two weeks ago, when the state unveiled a new age-based plan for eligibility, and decided to keep the clinics for older school staff after moving last week to prioritizing all school staff and childcare workers regardless of age. There are more than 47,000 school staff and about 16,000 childcare workers statewide.

“We’re so excited to be able to have this opportunity to do something special for our teachers, especially those who are older and more at risk,” Maine Commissioner of Health and Human Services Jeanne Lambrew said before a tour of the Brunswick clinic overseen by Mid Coast-Parkview Health.

The clinic is serving all eligible Maine residents, including educators, childcare workers and the general population over age 60, but set aside 80 appointments Friday and Saturday specifically for school staff over 60. In total, more than 25 such dedicated clinics are being held around the state, most of them this weekend.


President Biden, in directing states to prioritize educators last week, set a goal of providing all school staff and childcare workers with at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of the month. Lambrew said Maine shares that goal.

Jean McGuigan, a special education teacher at Morse High School, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from retired nurse Dirk Armstrong at the clinic for teachers at Brunswick Parks and Recreation on Friday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“It’s a great goal,” Lambrew said. “We share that goal and we’re going to do everything we can in our power to get there. It’s hard to figure out how you count that and track that. That said, if the goal is to give everyone the opportunity, we’re there. We will continue to open up sites and figure out what we need to do to be at that goal by the end of the month.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require the data on school staff vaccinations and the state did not plan on tracking it even though staff vaccinations have been cited as a consideration in the ability of schools to reopen.

It was unclear Friday whether any individual school districts might be tracking staff vaccinations. Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest district, has not done any such tracking, spokesperson Tess Nacelewicz said.

Vaccinations for school staff are likely to reduce the number of staff quarantines, but schools are facing other challenges, particularly around the physical distancing requirements that remain. On Thursday, Biden announced schools around the country will be receiving $130 billion as part of his American Rescue Plan and the U.S. Department of Education will be convening a National Safe School Reopening Summit this month to share best practices and successful mitigation strategies.

Lambrew said those things, paired with vaccinations, should help schools find ways to increase in-person learning even though there are no plans to relax Maine’s physical distancing requirements. While some schools in Maine are offering five days per week of in-person instruction, many are in hybrid models. Decisions on reopening remain with local school boards and superintendents.

School staff at Friday’s clinic said the vaccines provide an additional mitigation strategy and will add to their comfort in the classroom. “At my age, being in school with a lot of young kids, it’s obvious I worry about my health,” said Frank Gross, 73, a substitute teacher at Brunswick High School. Gross said the vaccine was the easiest inoculation he has ever received. “There was no pain,” he said.

McGuigan, the ed tech at Morse High School, said she was having a hard time finding a vaccine appointment until the state said it would prioritize school staff. After receiving her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Friday, she was grateful but said she still worries about her twin sister who has not been able to get an appointment. McGuigan also said the vaccines will help reduce the need for substitutes, which have been hard to come by this year.

“We are definitely looking to get kids back as soon as possible,” she said. “Remote learning is good, but it’s not a substitute for being close to a student.”

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