Thousands of educators are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in some of the largest counties across the state.
Misty Gardner-Hajek was ready first thing in the morning on Jan. 11 to sign up for her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Gardner-Hajek is an English teacher at Coronado High School in Scottsdale, and one of the thousands of Arizona educators that are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine across the state.
The state has rolled out the vaccine to the community in phases, starting with healthcare workers, emergency responders, and long-term care staff. Registration is now open for teachers and childcare workers to receive the vaccine in some of the state’s largest counties, including Maricopa County, Pima County, Pinal County, and Yavapai County.
On Jan. 11—the day teachers were eligible to register for vaccination appointments—Maricopa County Public Health said its vaccine registration page was overwhelmed.
The First Dose
For Gardner-Hajek, getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine was the first step toward making her feel safer in returning to in-person classes, which have been hotly debated as parents, teachers, and school officials determine how best to educate students while minimizing community spread of the virus.
“That [first dose] in and of itself makes me feel a lot better about going to school tomorrow to see kids,” she said.
As of Tuesday, more than 297,000 vaccines had been administered to people in Arizona, including more than 36,000 who received both doses of the vaccine.
Maricopa County will open a second vaccination site on Feb. 1 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, after the state’s first 24/7 vaccination site at State Farm Stadium in Glendale saw overwhelming demand last week.
The new vaccine site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, near Galvin Parkway and Mill Avenue, will open for appointments on Feb. 1 and will be open during daytime hours.
In addition to the statewide testing locations at State Farm Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the state has over 200 vaccination sites statewide, including 45 non-profit Community Health Centers which are open to anyone regardless of their insurance status.
The state could also see up to 100 pharmacies administering vaccines over the next few weeks, but the rollout will depend on the supply of vaccine doses the state receives weekly from the federal government.
Feeling Safe — Finally
For Howie Kipnes, an 81-year-old substitute teacher who has worked in the Scottsdale Unified School District for nearly 20 years, the vaccine is a way for him to finally feel safe returning to the classroom.
“I have not subbed this year because of the pandemic,” Kipnes said. “I just didn’t want to take any chances. I just felt very uncomfortable going back. When I get my second shot, I definitely plan on doing it.”
What to Expect at State Testing Sites?
Gardner-Hajek said she was planning on being at the State Farm Stadium vaccination site for several hours when she went to get her vaccine last Wednesday.
Upon arriving, Gardner-Hajek said she moved through three lines: one to show a QR code that was emailed to her to verify she had an appointment, another line where volunteers checked her ID and asked about any allergies or COVID symptoms, and the third and final line where she received her vaccine.
All told, she didn’t get out of her car for the 48-minute experience. (She says she timed the entire process, just to be sure.)
Overall, she called the process of getting vaccinated at State Farm Stadium a “well-oiled machine.”
It’s been one week since she received her first shot, but the only symptom Gardner-Hajek said she experienced was a sore arm.
Roughly five days after receiving her first shot, she received an email with a link that prompted her to sign up for her second vaccine appointment.
Kipnes, who received his vaccine from Dignity Health at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, said his experience was similar to Gardner-Hajek’s. The whole process took roughly 30 minutes, he said.
“It was an extremely smooth operation, very organized,” he said. “I was very impressed with how they carried it off.”
Ultimately, Gardner-Hajek said any hiccups she experienced during the process of registering for the vaccine are ones that she considers normal for a vaccine rollout of this magnitude.
“It sucks for all of us that were in the first wave of trying to get on board and trying to navigate everything,” she said. “Even just in the past week since they’ve started, I think that they’ve improved the process a lot.”
How to Apply
By Tuesday night, within 14 hours after February appointments opened for State Farm Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium, all appointments had been booked, with 147,775 appointments scheduled just on Tuesday.
Eligible residents can sign up to receive the vaccination at State Farm Stadium, Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and at other sites around the state by visiting https://podvaccine.azdhs.gov.
Kipnes said his process of registering for an appointment in Chandler-Gilbert Community College was smooth and he didn’t have any trouble using the state’s website. “I didn’t have any difficulty, and I’m no tech wizard, believe me,” he said.
After signing up for an account on the health services portal, individuals will be asked to answer a series of questions related to their age, employment, underlying medical conditions and living situations.
Eligible educators and childcare workers will then be able to access a calendar to schedule an appointment at one of the vaccination sites throughout the state.
Working Out the Bugs
Gardner-Hajek said the website to schedule appointments is not particularly user-friendly. Last week, ADHS asked that people use Firefox and Chrome browsers for the best experience.
But on Tuesday, people were still reporting problems with the website, prompting ADHS to tell individuals to refresh the page regularly and look beyond Feb. 14 for available appointments.
Anyone who does not have access to a computer can call 1-844-542-8201 to make an appointment. Information about all vaccination sites across Arizona can be found at azhealth.gov/findvaccine.
The First Step
For Gardner-Hajek, vaccination is the first step toward ensuring that Arizona educators are able to safely and consistently return to classrooms with their students. More educators being vaccinated ensures that fewer teachers have to quarantine after exposure to the virus, she said.
“Teachers getting it is the first start,” she said. “If we really want schools to be open, if we want to have students in person, vaccination is the way to go. We have to start here.”
Kipnes, who typically substitutes at Cocopah Middle School near his home, says he has missed connecting with students and staff at the school. The vaccine is an opportunity for him to get back to seeing their faces.
“It’s like a big family. I’ve missed that,” he said. “Sitting home doing nothing…it gets tiresome after a while. I’ll be really happy to get back to it.”