About 550 Waunakee school staff get vaccinated in just 10 hours only one day after becoming eligible

WAUNAKEE, Wis. — Tuesday was the day hundreds of Waunakee educators have been waiting for. Just a day after becoming eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Wisconsin, about 550 teachers and staff got their first shots at a daylong pop-up clinic in the Waunakee High School gym.

“It’s almost like a little party. There’s some balloons out front to just welcome you in and make you feel like we’re doing something special here,” said Waunakee High School choir teacher Molly Petroff.

Petroff’s classes haven’t been able to sing together, and instead practice vocal skills over Zoom. She said even after she receives her second shot, many safety precautions won’t change.

“I think we have to continue to be cautious and do what we have to do, wear our masks. You know with the variants going around, I think erring on the side of caution for the safety of all is really important,” said Petroff.

Still, she and many of her teachers feel like a weight has been lifted off of their shoulders.

“It’s just a layer of stress that’s being taken off of me. That when I have to get close to kids to help them out, that I’m not as at risk. And therefore they’re not as at risk as well,” said first grade teacher Bethany Pottinger.

While many are excited and relieved, some teachers also feel a little guilty, knowing that most other Dane County school district staff will have to wait at least another two weeks before they can be vaccinated through Public Health Madison & Dane County.

“My other teacher friends in other districts have been waiting to hear when they’ll finally be able to get it. They’ve been having to kind of fend for themselves, so the fact that we just had this set up for us so early during our window has just been such a blessing. And I just feel so lucky,” said Pottinger.

Along with Waunakee Community School District’s 600 regular staff, cooks, substitute teachers and expanded staff such as crossing guards were also given the opportunity to get a vaccine. More than 100 staff were already vaccinated in phase 1A along with healthcare workers.

Waunakee school employees, and Sun Prairie staff later this week, are getting this opportunity because of their long-standing partnership with SSM Health.

“We’ve got a great working relationship with them, we’ve got our on-site clinic which has been in place for a number of years with them. And I think those relationships helped us be able to foster a plan that they could pilot a vaccination clinic in schools, that hopefully they can replicate in other areas,” said Waunakee Community School District.

SSM Health has said they have enough vaccine to dedicate 20% to educators, while keeping 80% available to patients 65 and older.

The health system will continue to schedule at least two school districts each week this month in many of the other Wisconsin counties where they have clinics.