Ligonier Valley School District staff members had an opportunity to receive their first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine recently ahead of today’s return to part-time in-person instruction for a portion of the district’s learners.

In collaboration with LVRx Pharmacy in Ligonier, 182 school district employees were vaccinated, including teachers, secretaries, aides, cafeteria workers, custodians, matrons, coaches, bus drivers and bus aides.

Professional staff accounted for 114 of the employees receiving initial doses of the vaccine, LVSD superintendent Dr. Christine Oldham said. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, authorized for emergency use by the FDA, requires a second dose a month after the first.

Based on evidence from clinical trials, the Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 illness in people who received two doses who had no evidence of being previously infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to a document the company submitted to the FDA, the Moderna vaccine can provide 80.2% protection after one dose.

“We were so glad that we were able to get most of the staff vaccinated,” Oldham said, noting the district is welcoming back some learners at Laurel Valley Elementary and R.K. Mellon Elementary, as well as sixth-graders at Ligonier Valley Middle School, for in-person instruction beginning today.

“Being able to provide the opportunity to be vaccinated prior to their return certainly helps to establish some peace of mind, and will assist in decreasing community transmission as we begin to move toward ‘normal’ (whatever that now is),” Oldham told the Bulletin. “There is so much appreciation for Susan Anthony at LVRx and her team for pulling the clinic together so quickly.”

Oldham said the district’s pandemic coordinator, Ed Moran, and the district’s nursing staff were also instrumental in bringing the vaccination clinic to fruition before learners were back in the school buildings.

The district’s return to the hybrid instructional model comes after the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the state health department earlier this month revised recommendations regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) community transmission rate instructional models.

Previously, districts in counties with a “substantial” rate of community transmission were recommended to operate under a full-remote instructional model for all students.

State officials walked back that recommendation, suggesting school districts allow elementary students to return to a “blended learning model” regardless of their county’s community transmission rate.

The recommendation change does not apply to secondary students.

State officials said elementary-aged students benefit greatly from face-to-face instruction, while state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine cited new research in which children younger than ages 10 to 14 have a lower chance of contracting the virus.

Under Ligonier Valley’s hybrid model, the Thursday/Friday group of pre-K through sixth-grade learners are returning to classrooms today for their first day of in-person instruction since October. The Monday/Tuesday group will learn remotely for the remainder of this week. Learners in the Monday/Tuesday group will have their first in-person instruction starting Monday, Jan. 25. Wednesdays will remain full-remote for all learners, and parents can opt to have their children remain in the full-remote model rather than returning for in-person instruction.

Oldham also announced in a letter posted to the district’s website that pre-K, kindergarten, first-grade and sixth-grade learners can register to attend in-person classes four days per week beginning Feb. 1.

Ligonier Valley was fortunate to be able to work with the pharmacy to have staff members receive at least an initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before learners returned to classrooms, Oldham said.

After the state’s change to recommendations about in-person instruction, “it would have made great sense to consider vaccinations for adults working in schools to ensure that healthy staff would be available to keep those schools open, as well as to decrease overall transmission of COVID,” Oldham said. “Ligonier Valley was fortunate in being able to offer vaccines prior to re-entry, but right now, we are the absolute minority among school districts in the Commonwealth.”

Staff members at Greater Latrobe School District are expected to have an opportunity to receive initial doses of the Moderna vaccine within the next two weeks through a local partnership with the Medicine Shoppe in Latrobe.

“It’s a major relief,” GLSD superintendent Dr. Georgia Teppert told the Bulletin. “The past couple days, I actually felt a weight was lifted off my shoulders and there was a new sense of excitement. It’s an outstanding relief. This is just the first step in doing our best to continuing to protect the health, safety and welfare of our staff and school community.”

Derry Area superintendent Eric Curry could not be reached for comment on the district’s plans for vaccinating staff members.

Derry Area on Tuesday resumed the option for elementary students to attend in-person classes five days a week, learn using a hybrid instructional model or remain in a full-remote instructional setting. Secondary students in the district could return to the hybrid model or continue full-remote instruction.

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