Collier, Lee schools start vaccinating older employees, school nurses

Collier and Lee county school districts joined the efforts to offer eligible employees COVID-19 vaccines.

The Collier County School District through its partnership with the Department of Health-Collier and Collier County Emergency Medical Services last week provided initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna.

The vaccines were reserved for Collier employees who are 65 years or older as stated under Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order.

More than 240 people registered for last week's vaccinations spread across two days, according to the district. The vaccinations are free and optional, according to the district.

Collier County's School District through its partnership with the Department of Health-Collier began providing initial doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

On Monday, Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins said 240 appointments were made by district employees who met the requirements. Those eligible are employees who are 65 and up, as well as school nurses. 

The vaccines were given out during a Monday afternoon clinic.

In Collier, about 500 full-time and part-time school district employees meet the age criteria listed in the executive order, Chad Oliver, Collier's district spokesman, wrote in an email. 

Kristine Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health in Collier, wrote in an email that the department is not administering the vaccine but providing the doses.

Did you know?:More than 88% of Collier students expected to be on campus to start second semester

The school district worked with Collier County EMS to administer the vaccinations, Oliver wrote. 

"Collier County Public Schools will continue to share COVID-19 vaccine resources with our employees and work with local partners to offer vaccine opportunities to those employees who wish to receive it and who are eligible under the current or subsequent Governor’s Executive Order(s) on this topic,"  Oliver wrote.

Tammy Caraker, associate superintendent of school and district operations, led the district's vaccination effort.

Caraker thanked community partners, DOH-Collier and Collier County EMS, in a statement from the school district. 

As of Friday, there were no plans for vaccination appointments this week, according to Collier's district.

Diana McGowan, second vice president of the Collier County Education Association, said union members are waiting to hear when Florida teachers will be considered a priority group for vaccinations by the state. 

"Last year was supposed to be the year of the educator, and this year we're not even worth enough to get vaccines to," McGowan said.

Collier schools employ about 3,100 teachers, and about 2,300 are union members, McGowan said. CCEA experienced a surge of about 200 new members since the pandemic's start. 

Collier's school district supports access to the COVID-19 vaccine for its more than 7,000 employees, Oliver wrote.

"While the COVID-19 vaccine is not a requirement of employment, educators should be prioritized in this process and we certainly agree with the CDC’s classification of educators as frontline essential workers," Oliver wrote. 

In addition to rolling out vaccinations, Collier County's school district chose to continue offering paid leave under the Families First Covid Response Act through March 31. The leave under the Act expired on Dec. 31, 2020.

The Act requires "certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19."

By the way:Martin County schools let special COVID-19 leave drop; most others across Florida keep it going

McGowan, who teaches economics at Immokalee High School, praised the district for continuing leave for employees through the Act.

McGowan said it's a surreal experience to have 28 kids in her classroom again, but teachers in the district are making it work. 

The largest number of students so far this school year were projected to return to brick-and-mortar schools to start Collier's second semester on Jan. 20. 

"We keep marching forward knowing in the end, for our students, the majority of them are getting the best education that we can give them regardless of what's happening everywhere else in their lives," McGowan said. 

Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at

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