'This is a great day:' 800 Trumbull school staff gets vaccinated at special clinic

TRUMBULL — Matt Bracksieck flinched for a moment as he received his COVID-19 vaccination, then broke into a grin even his face mask couldn’t contain.

“This is a great day,” the Trumbull High English teacher said at Friday’s vaccination clinic for school staff. “There’s been a lot of pressure to reopen the schools, and we’ve seen the impact that having schools closed has had on things like the economy. It’s really exciting to see teachers finally treated like the essential workers they’ve always been.”

Bracksieck was one of about 800 people to receive a Johnson and Johnson vaccine Friday at the clinic held at Trumbull High. The clinic was staffed by the Health Department and school nurses, plus numerous volunteers from the town EMS and Community Emergency Response Team.

“The school superintendent called a special remote learning day today so we were able to use the building,” said Nursing Director Lynn Steinbrick. “We have 16 school nurses in the Trumbull school system, and every one of them is here today because the students are home.”

Steinbrick said school nurses had taken on many additional duties in the past year, like contact tracing and enforcing social guidelines. Delivering vaccines was the logical extension, she said.

“We knew there was going to be a vaccine at some point, and we always wanted to to be part of distributing it,” she said. “Today we’re helping educators get back in the classroom and hopefully that builds a little herd immunity to protect the children too.”

The clinic was set up in the senior lounge area of the school cafeteria, with 22 vaccination stations. A small group of workers at a separate table spent the day drawing doses from sealed bottles into syringes, five at a time. Each dose is .5mL or just over a tenth of a teaspoon.

Even as the group prepared to hand out 800 doses, nurse Victoria Benoit lamented that it couldn’t be more.

“You draw five doses out of each bottle,” she said holding a vaccine bottle smaller than a AA battery. “But each bottle actually contains 2.75mLs, which is 5.5 doses, so you don’t come up short in case you accidentally draw a tiny bit too much into the syringe.”

She calculated that combining the remnants of each bottle would have allowed to clinic to vaccinate an extra 80 people, but such actions are strictly against protocols.

Working in 22 two-person teams, each nurse and assistant was averaging about one vaccination every five minutes. Once they received their shot, the staffers moved back into the main cafeteria for the mandatory 15-minute post vaccination observation period.

As they waited to check out, a party-like atmosphere reigned in the waiting area, with relieved laughter and occasional high-fives among the newly vaccinated.

“I can’t wait until we get back to food parties in the teacher’s lounge,” said Michelle Slais, a Spanish teacher at Trumbull High who had taken a short break from teaching remotely from her classroom while her students worked on individual projects.

Pam Berlekovic, an agri-science teacher, said she had to hurry back to her remote class to lead a discussion in bio-tech careers. For her Friday was also special because it would mark the first time she has seen her mother since New York closed nursing homes to outside visitors a year ago.

“We’ve been Zooming, but this is the first time I’ve been able to see her,” she said. “But they told me everyone that visits has to take a COVID test, so I got vaccinated this morning and I’m going to have to take a test this afternoon.”

Health Director Lucienne Bango said the Trumbull High clinic wasn’t the only vaccinating happening in Trumbull Friday.

“We’re starting to vaccinate the homebound,” she said.

Combined personnel from four town departments — EMS, nursing, social services and the Health Dept. — had scheduled 20 at-home vaccinations for Friday afternoon, Bango said.

Steinbrick said the cooperation was inspiring.

“It’s amazing to me to see all these people come together and get this done,” she said.

deng@trumbulltimes.com