It’s official: the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been put in the arms of Oyster River and Barrington faculty and staff. After over a year of uncertainty and drastic change, this development brings a glimmer of hope to the Oyster River community.
On Wednesday, March 24th, local police, medical personnel, and volunteers converged on Oyster River High School to set up the first of two parts of the Oyster River vaccination clinic. Cones and ropes were placed around the parking lots and bus loop to facilitate the drive-through style process, where patients could remain in their cars as the necessary documentation was checked and as they received the vaccine itself. Recipients of the vaccine then had to wait in an adjacent parking lot for fifteen minutes, where they were monitored by EMTs. This was to make sure any adverse reactions were taken care of, even though the likelihood of that happening is about 0.03%, according to the CDC.
“We worked with Strafford County Regional Health, and it was kind of funny because we had done our drive-through graduation last year, so when they contacted us we thought that we would use the same sort of traffic pattern from the graduation. We gave that plan to the Strafford County planners and they thought that worked perfectly,” said Todd Allen, Assistant Superintendent of the ORCSD and a major facilitator of Wednesday’s event.
As for who was able to receive the vaccine, all Oyster River teachers and administration, as well as local staff and volunteers who work with childcare centers or youth sports were offered a spot.
“Phase 2A is what all of the educators and people who work with youth fall into,” explained Allen. “For Oyster River, [phase 2A] included all of our school district employees: teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, food service… anybody who has a role that comes in contact with kids. Beyond that, we invited all licensed childcare providers in the community and all of the youth sports organizations.”
In order to maintain the flow of traffic, recipients of the vaccine arrived at ORHS in waves. “The schedule was set up with one-hour blocks,” explained Allen. “The first two hours were primarily Barrington people, then we shifted to Oyster River schools coming in at ten o’clock, with Moharimet at ten, Mast Way at eleven, the middle school at noon, the high school at one, and two o’clock was supposed to be our central office people, like IT and custodial employees.”
Despite the sheer number of eligible and registered individuals, a tally that hovered around a thousand, the clinic moved along much faster and easier than anticipated by state and local organizers. “We were more efficient than we realized we were going to be,” said Allen. “When we planned with Strafford County, they said to plan on vaccinating about 125 people an hour, so with a thousand people, it would be about an eight-hour day. We realized by 8:30 that we were way better than that. In fact, we had vaccinated about a hundred and thirty people in the first half-hour.”
The Moderna COVID-19 shot, which was used at the clinic, is an mRNA vaccine that is administered in two parts, with one month between doses. mRNA vaccines work by essentially transmitting “instructions” to our immune system on how to deal with COVID-19 via the introduction of virus material on how to create harmless proteins that mimic those found in COVID-19. Our immune systems then make copies of that protein, which trains our white blood cells (which are responsible for fighting infection) to attack and destroy them. That way, if real COVID-19 particles were to enter the body of a vaccinated individual, their immune system would already know how to fight the virus and the infection would be eliminated quickly.
“You need two shots of this particular vaccine because the second shot is giving you immunity for a longer time,” said Moharimet nurse and vaccine drive volunteer Sheila Koutelis. The second dose for the Oyster River clinic will be administered on April 19th, in the same fashion as the first.
“It was an awesome experience overall,” said Victoria Sickler, an Exercise Physiology and Wellness teacher at ORHS. “I did have a little bit of a reaction [to the vaccine], but it wasn’t anything severe.” Recipients of the vaccine can expect some minor symptoms such as injection site soreness, fatigue, and body aches and chills, but the effects typically only last a day or two, according to the CDC.
Jenna Benoit (‘21) was one of the ORHS students who was able to receive their dose on the 24th. Even though she is not technically a part of phase 2A, she was able to recieve an extra vaccine after every registered staff member had been taken care of, due to the fact that her mom was volunteering as a nurse. “It was honestly very emotional,” Benoit said of her experience at the clinic. “This was the moment that a year ago we could only dream of. It was extra special for me because my mom, who has been volunteering across the state at vaccination clinics, was able to administer my Moderna dose to me.”
It’s true that Wednesday’s events had much larger implications for the Oyster River community, demonstrating a shift in Oyster River’s collective attitude towards the future.
“It was a very festive day,” said Allen. “With a pandemic there’s a lot of negatives, obviously, but today was the first time we knew we were taking an active step to change things, to really do something positive. The whole day was so festive and happy, and people were so appreciative and excited to be there.”
Festive is an excellent description of the day; clinic attendees were ecstatic to receive their dose and some even decorated their cars to show their gratitude to the volunteers. Many of those who staffed the event showed their excitement (and coordination skills!) by wearing matching T-shirts that read “Peace, Love & Hope” in big block letters.
“I think we’re in a transition phase as far as nationally and statewide for being able to ease back guidelines and restrictions,” said Koutelis. “Right now, my biggest hope is that people feel more comfortable and that [Wednesday’s clinic] lessens people’s anxieties in general. We’re not out of the woods yet, but hope is here and hope is coming.”
“I want to be back to school desperately,” said Sickler. “I know that so many of our staff and students do as well. This was a great first step towards that. Hopefully, in the fall, we’ll be facing a different year than this past year.”
In a move that only added to the hope of New Hampshirites, on Thursday, March 25th, Governor Chris Sununu announced that beginning April 2nd, all people ages 16 and up will be eligible to register for a vaccine in NH. This is a massive step towards mitigating the damage that COVID is able to inflict on our state. If you’re interested in learning more about this process or signing up for a dose yourself, please visit vaccines.nh.gov or dial 211 for the state COVID information hotline.