Starting this week, employees of the Fulton County Schools and Atlanta Public Schools have been able to receive their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine at Mercedes Benz Stadium, which is usually the home of the city’s professional soccer team Atlanta United this time of year.
Wednesday, March 24, was the first day APS employees could receive the shot.
“We just want everyone to simply get vaccinated,” APS Superintendent Lisa Herring said during the event. “That’s the key.”
Georgia teachers have been eligible to get free COVID-19 vaccines since March 8. Several metro Atlanta districts have partnered with county health departments to distribute vaccines for educators and other staff members. The Cobb County School District has held drive-thru vaccination events. The DeKalb County School District says it’s vaccinated more than 1,700 employees. Clayton County Public Schools has been inoculating teachers at the North Jonesboro Center, and Gwinnett County Public Schools has vaccinated school staff at Gwinnett Place Mall.
Earlier this month, Gov. Brian Kemp criticized APS for planning its vaccinations for late March.
“The Atlanta Public Schools board [sic] sent me a letter demanding that teachers needed to be vaccinated when they knew dang well I couldn’t do that,” Kemp said on March 8. “And now they’re going to wait two or three weeks. I believe they’re doing a disservice to their teachers.”
Herring responded to Kemp’s statement again on Wednesday.
“We’ve been planning since December,” she said. “We don’t believe we’ve done a disservice at all. If anything, we’ve wanted to focus on mass vaccination.”
As of Thursday, Kemp has opened vaccine eligibility for Georgians ages 16 and up. Herring said she hopes the district will be able to vaccinate students who qualify before the 2021-22 school year begins.
“We’re optimistic that the ‘new normal’ will allow a window over the summer to get more individuals vaccinated,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll see something for our younger population, and then we can reassess what the new normal looks like in the day-to-day.”
Inside Mercedes Benz Stadium, employees of APS and Fulton County Schools receive vaccines in different sections of the arena. They’re called by number to get their shots.
“It means a lot,” said Rhonda Robinson, who teaches sixth-grade math in APS. “First of all, it gives me an opportunity to be able to have a choice to go into the building and feel a little safer.”
Robinson says once she’s fully vaccinated, she’ll also feel safer around members of her family who are medically fragile.
Quin Smith teaches students with special needs in APS. She was also relieved to get the shot.
“It makes me feel like we’re making progress towards getting back to some kind of new normal,” she said. “So, I’m definitely excited, and it makes me feel a lot safer.”
Herring said about 1,200 APS employees out of an estimated 6,000 were vaccinated at Wednesday’s event, planned in partnership with the Fulton County Board of Health. Fulton County Commission Chair Rob Pitts said making the stadium available for vaccinations was a public/private effort.
“Federal government, state government, local government, and the private sector,” Pitts said. “And as a result of our collective efforts, we are going to ensure that our teachers … are vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Pitts said the next step would be to ensure APS and Fulton County families can receive the vaccine. He said the county would dispatch mobile units to targeted communities where people may be hesitant about getting inoculated.
Fulton County employees can get the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Mercedes Benz Stadium every day this week through Saturday. APS employees can get it Friday and Saturday. Employees of both school districts can receive second doses in April.
A note of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.