FRANKFORT, KY (STL.News) Gov. Andy Beshear joined school and municipal leaders in Louisville as nearly 1,200 educators with Jefferson County Public Schools received COVID-19 vaccinations, highlighting Kentucky’s efforts to protect all of its K-12 staffers.

“From adapting to new instruction modes to help our children learn, to packing and delivering meals to ensure no child went hungry and so much more, our educators and school staffers have stepped up in countless ways to help during this pandemic,” the Governor said.  “The entire commonwealth owes all our teachers, bus drivers and school staff a tremendous debt of gratitude.  Now, once again, they are answering the call as we prioritize their vaccinations in an effort to get our schools fully reopened.  On behalf of everyone in the commonwealth, we thank you.”

Kentucky is among only 19 U.S. states – and the only state in the region – that continues to prioritize vaccinations for all K-12 staffers.  In addition, Kentucky is the only state with plans to finish the first round of these vaccinations by the end of the first week in February.

Following the Governor’s call to prioritize educators, the Kentucky Department for Public Health organized a K-12 school vaccinator for all 120 counties, and vaccinations started last week.  The Governor thanked Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack for helping develop the special program for educators as well as education leaders and regional vaccine partners for their support in making the program a success.

“Kentucky has been a leader in vaccination efforts to protect residents, medical personnel, first responders and now educators,” said Dr. Marty Pollio, JCPS superintendent.  “More than 12,000 JCPS educators are scheduled to be vaccinated.  This will be an extraordinary accomplishment by state and local leaders who recognize the importance of the health and safety of teachers, bus drivers and school employees who make learning possible.”

“Getting our kids back to school quickly and safely is vital to the current and future health of our community,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, chief health strategist and director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.  “This pandemic has shown us the important role school plays in the mental health of our students, and our parents – how it helps keep families fed, women in the workforce, and reducing violence.  School is a vital part of the ecosystem of the health of our city.”

“We share a common goal of getting our children back to in-person learning, and today we are thrilled to take a big step forward in making that goal a reality by starting vaccinations for JCPS educators,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.  “I’m incredibly proud of what’s happening at our LouVax with our many dedicated public servants and an army of volunteers helping us eliminate COVID-19 in our city.”

“Every minute away from my students is a minute too long,” said Tonya Moore, JCPS special education teacher at J. B. Atkinson Academy, who was vaccinated Friday at the LouVax Drive-Thru Regional Vaccination Site.  “Getting the vaccine was an important and personal decision for me.  My students need me, and the vaccine provides a pathway for me to safely return to my classroom.”

Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage,  Medical Director for Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness and for the LouVax Drive-Thru Regional Vaccination Site, said: “Our staff has accommodated every scale up to help more Kentuckians.  This week we’re administering 6,000 doses, doubling the size of our program to date.”

The Governor thanked volunteers, local health department staff and health care professionals across Kentucky who are assisting in this historic vaccination effort.  At Broadbent Arena alone, nearly 4,000 volunteers have signed up to help, led by more than 100 Louisville Metro staffers.

“We are grateful that Governor Beshear and our public health officials have prioritized Kentucky’s educators and staff in this vaccination process,” said Jason E. Glass, Kentucky Commissioner of Education.  “Doing so will allow us to restore more consistent in-person learning and making sure the Commonwealth’s children have the learning experiences they deserve.”

“As a mother and as a professional who works with a medically fragile population, I want to do my part to keep our community and the world safe, and certainly getting teachers and school staff vaccinated is critical to that,” said LouVax volunteer Karen Morrison, CEO of Gilda’s Club Kentuckiana, a nonprofit organization that supports families living with cancer.  “For nearly a year, I’ve been worried every day that one of my family members or a member of Gilda’s living with cancer would get sick or die.  I also worry for friends, many of whom are teachers, struggling to do their job and literally scared for their lives.  One teacher friend was hospitalized and is still recovering. But today, so many parents like me can breathe a little easier.  We have a long way to go, but with every car that comes through here we are one individual closer to a healthy community, including open and safe schools.”

This week, as Morrison volunteered, her daughter’s St. Francis School music teacher, Robert Bertke, arrived at the arena and rolled up his sleeve.

“I’m so grateful that Gov. Beshear is taking this step to protect teachers, so we can get back to serving our students in the best way we know how,” said Bertke.  “In this moment, and over the last year, Gov. Beshear saved my life and the lives of many of my colleagues across the state.”

In the state’s vaccination plan, K-12 staff are in the second phase, following health care professionals and long-term care and assisted living facility residents and staff.