Mississippi is putting its foot on the gas when it comes to accelerating COVID-19 vaccinations outside the health care arena.
According to the Mississippi State Department of Health’s most recent timeline of distribution, teachers and education staff could begin receiving vaccines as early as the middle of this month.
How could this affect the Sunflower County Consolidated School District, which has been 100% virtual since March of 2020?
We caught up with SCCSD Superintendent Miskia Davis this week and asked about the potential for a safe return to school before the end of the 2020-21 term and whether or not employees of the district would be required to take the vaccine.
The E-T: SCCSD has been virtual since the start of the school year. How could the news the vaccine will soon be available to Mississippi teachers affect the district’s timeline on returning to in-person learning?
Davis: If the assertions are true, and the vaccine could eliminate the risk of contracting the virus, it could have a tremendous impact on in-person learning.
Without the threat on teachers' health and safety, and that of their families that they go home to every day, a lot of the anxieties associated with children being in the classrooms would be diminished.
I feel the vaccination, if effective, would also eliminate some of the parent anxieties as well, because just as staff are fearful of contracting the virus from students, parents are fearful of their children contracting the virus from staff. If the vaccine does what it says it will, the process of getting our children back in the buildings could be expedited.
The E-T: What are some of the ways the district might encourage teachers and staff to take the vaccine when available?
Davis: We have excellent district nurses who keep us abreast of the latest trends with the virus, as well as provide us with up-to-date information on what we can do to decrease the risk of spread.
SCCSD trusts our nurses, wholeheartedly, and will really look to them for guidance on what would be in our best interest.
Our nurses, Nurse Hibbler, Nurse Cole, and Nurse Wilson, are honest and candid, and give us the good, the bad and the ugly. The nurses are currently researching the vaccine and finding out as much information about the vaccine as possible so that they can answer questions as they arise.
They have committed to being impartial, so as to not alienate anyone, regardless of which side of the fence they are on and are going to provide the information to the staff about the vaccination, and allow the staff to make the decisions for themselves.
I, personally, plan to take the vaccine, but that is my personal preference, and I strongly believe that every adult should be allowed to make the decision of whether or not they want to take the vaccine, on their own.
The E-T: There have been debates about whether the vaccine should be required by employers. What are some of the pros and cons in going down the road of requiring them for teachers and staff?
Davis: I definitely think more time and research should be conducted before requiring anyone to take the vaccine.
It is so early on, that truly, we don't know the impact that the vaccine could have, whether good or bad, so to force a person to take a vaccine for which no one is sure of the long term effects is not reasonable, in my humble opinion.
Thus, mandating that everyone take the vaccine, regardless of their comfortability, could bring about a set of challenges that could negatively impact an already fragile system. People are already afraid of the virus, so to couple that with a fear of what may happen to them if they take the vaccine is a recipe for disaster.
As I shared, the best we can do is provide our people with as much information as possible about the vaccine and allow them to make an informed decision based on what they feel is best for them.
When enough time has passed, and the results are proven and the side effects confirmed, then, I think, would be a more viable time to start discussing mandates. Right now, it is just simply too premature.
People's personal experiences with the viruses are going to have a large impact on how they feel about getting the vaccine, and that is totally understandable, and I strongly feel that everyone's personal experiences and opinions should be respected as it relates to the vaccine. I plan to get the vaccine, but my experiences with the virus are different than others. So just as I have the right to get the vaccine because of my experience, others should have the right to not get it, because of theirs.