Dawn Richard has seen the dangers of the coronavirus up close.

When the virus was sweeping through the state last spring, her son, who works as an ambulance first responder, was in the hospital for weeks after being infected. And recently, her mother was sickened by the virus but has since recovered.

Still, as a kindergarten teacher at Rosenwald Elementary school in New Roads, Richard, 45, has been pining for a return to normal and the ability to give students in-person attention or an occasional hug when they most need it.

On Thursday, she saw a glimpse of that post-pandemic future.

Richard was among nearly 200 teachers and staff at Pointe Coupee Parish schools who received Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine when traveling clinicians went school-to-school delivering the illness-preventing shots on Thursday.

“I just hope to get back to some type of normalcy as more people start to get the vaccine, and people aren’t sick anymore,” Richard said as she sat in the school gym while a 15-minute timer ticked down, before she was cleared to go back to work. “It’s been really just difficult.”

The vaccine drive, which saw clinicians from Arbor Family Health fan out across the district to deliver the shots, is among the first of its kind in the Baton Rouge metro offering the vaccines at schools during the day.

Having the pop-up clinics at the schools and district offices allowed for teachers to get the shot and go back to work instead of having to take a day off and find a substitute if they got it elsewhere, Superintendent Kim Canezaro said.

“I think the people who wanted to participate would have done it regardless of the location and made it happen, but it is more convenient,” she said.

Public school employees in Pointe Coupee will also be getting their second dose of the vaccine before spring break. Canezaro said that was lucky timing because it potentially prevents the need to find substitute teachers if enough staff experience mild side effects that are sometimes associated with the shots.

For Harold Terrance, a 72-year-old bus driver living in New Roads, getting the shot after he dropped off students Thursday morning was much earlier than if he scheduled an appointment at a local pharmacy.

He’d been eligible for the shot since early January, when Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration allowed people 70 and older to get the shots. But he couldn't get an appointment until April.

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“I’m just glad they allowed bus drivers the opportunity to do it here,” Terrance said.

Even the initial increase of protection the first dose provides against the virus, before a booster shot, is reassuring, Terrance said.

For administrators and employees like Terrance who got the vaccine at the school board office, it was the first time many of them had been together in nearly a year, though they were physically spread out after getting the shots. The atmosphere inside the room was festive as administrators and workers laughed and joked while waiting to be cleared to leave.

More than a million doses have been injected into arms across Louisiana, according to the latest state Department of Health figures. But less than 10% of the state's population has been fully inoculated, since some of the vaccines require two doses.

The one-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson also began arriving in the state this week. That is expected to provide a significant jolt to the effort to curb severe illness and death from COVID-19.

Getting over the nerves of taking the vaccine was a tough decision for Daisy Maloid, a pre-Kindergarten teacher's aide at Rosenwald Elementary School, who said she ultimately opted to take it at the last minute.

After her grandmother received the shot with no ill effects recently, Maloid, 45, said she signed up to take the shot.

“I felt if she can take it, then I can,” she said, as her colleagues comforted her. “I had my reservations, but I knew I wanted to get it out of the way.”

Science teacher Taylor Iles is looking forward to not having to quarantine and test before visiting her family. And she said the vaccine is also going to ease the anxieties anytime she’s questioned if she’s getting sick, only to find it wasn’t the coronavirus.

Keeping students safe from spreading the virus to their families is also something to look forward to.

“It’s some peace of mind,” said Iles, 24. “Every little twinge or cough or waking up with a dry throat, I don’t have to feel I’m spreading an epidemic to like 200 kids.”


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com, and follow him on Twitter @youssefrddad