Faculty relieved at vaccination progress

Paly librarian Sima Thomas said in an interview with The Paly Voice that she feels more protected due to her COVID-19 vaccinations. Thomas has already received her first dose of the vaccine and is expecting her second dose on Monday; she said her vaccinations have eased her worries about visiting her parents, who have received both doses of their vaccines. “It doesn’t mean I feel like being reckless, but it just feels safer, like I have protections,” she said. “Compared to six months ago, it just feels like we have so much more control over our exposure and our experience than [we used to]. … The vaccine is definitely like a huge part of that.” Photo: Andy Robinson
As COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to increase for Palo Alto High School staff, many are expressing relief at a safer on-campus environment.

Santa Clara County educators have been eligible to receive vaccines since Sunday, Feb. 28, with many teachers at Paly already receiving their first doses.

“Being vaccinated does make me feel better about returning to campus, though I am wary of getting too comfortable,” science teacher Samuel Howles-Banerji said. 

According to Howles-Banerji, who said he has received his first dose of the vaccine and is awaiting a second, scheduling the vaccination was not a simple process. 

“I live in San Mateo county,” Howles-Banerji said. “At the time that I scheduled mine, they released a block of appointments at 8 a.m., and they were all booked by 9 a.m. … If one wasn’t waiting for them [vaccine appointments] at that time, they would be difficult to get.”

Howles-Banerji said though he feels safer due to his vaccinations, he remains concerned about his personal safety in a classroom setting with students and staff who have not received the vaccine.

“I will not be fully vaccinated until the end of March, and even then I will still be in a classroom with a number of unvaccinated individuals from different households,” he said. “This is still considered a risk, even if it’s substantially reduced. It is also still a risk for students who are not vaccinated to be in that setting, as well as for their families who may not be vaccinated yet.”

Other educators, including math teacher Steve Marsheck, have expressed concern that the vaccine should be prioritized to other groups.

“I think it is good teachers are getting vaccinated,” Marsheck said. “But to be honest, we are not more important than lots of essential workers who have had no choice but to go to work for months without a vaccine.”

According to California All, the California state government website dedicated to COVID-19 pandemic updates, agriculture and food, education and childcare, and emergency services workers are deemed to have a “high chance of exposure,” and are currently receiving vaccinations under Phase 1B. Individuals 50 and older will be eligible for vaccinations beginning April 1, with the process for all Californians over age 16 starting on April 15.

Paly librarian Sima Thomas echoed the sentiments of Marsheck, saying she is unsure whether the vaccination timeline and stratification system has been the most effective, efficient, and equitable for all local residents.

“I guess they feel really conflicted,” Thomas said. “I know it was a hard decision to make. … I felt really good about the food industry and the agricultural industry getting vaccinated because [these] people have much more high risk situations than I’m in.”

Despite these concerns, Thomas said she is ultimately satisfied with the county’s decision to vaccinate teachers before opening the process up to all individuals over 16.

“Selfishly, I’m glad I got to go when I got to go, [and] it does kind of make sense that we want to get schools back open,” she said. “If we have the vaccine then it feels respectful to say ‘alright teachers, we’re going to vaccinate you and we’re going to open schools because we want to get students back to campus and get students back into the classroom.’”

Thomas said she hopes that the vaccination process will continue to expand in order to return to some sense of normalcy.

“The faster we can get vaccination done and get towards herd immunity, [the better],” Thomas said. “I’m not in the ‘let’s just all return to normal and go out and not wear masks [group]’ … but it is nice to know that at least for the last month of school my son, who’s in second grade, will get to go to school every day. It’s nice to feel like some parts of life that feel very essential can return.”