By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer
Westborough – The day after Gov. Baker announced that school faculty and staff members were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, social studies teacher Brian Paulhus was having mixed feelings in his classroom at Westborough’s Gibbons Middle School.
“I thought, ‘What wonderful news,’” he told the Community Advocate, last month. “But I was still trying to get an appointment for my mom who is 74 and can’t do it on her own.”
With school starting at 8 a.m., Paulhus didn’t have time to help out and look for an appointment.
That’s when special education and math teacher Amanda Cowgill offered to help. Cowgill was able to help secure vaccine appointments for both Paulhus’ mother and Paulhus himself.
“Amanda has been awesome helping so many teachers get their appointments,” Paulhus said.
Cowgill specifically estimated that she had helped about 30 coworkers as of mid-March.
“I just want to do what I can to help,” Cowgill said. “I know how important the vaccine is to a lot of people… If there was something little that I could do to help somebody else and strengthen my school community and my town, I’m going to jump on that opportunity.”
Stepping up as vaccine systems lag
When COVID-19 vaccine appointments opened up, some Westborough Schools staff had difficulty scheduling appointments. They would log on only to find the state’s website was down or wasn’t working.
“As I started to hear all these little rumors going around, a lot of the teachers were saying, ‘Well, Amanda is good with computers.’” Cowgill recalled.
Cowgill said she wanted to help her coworkers get COVID vaccines in part because either they or their family members had health concerns. She also wanted to help lay the groundwork to reopen Gibbons for full-time in-person learning.
“I know a lot of kids are struggling with that social-emotional learning right now, and not being in the building,” she said. “So, if there was anything I could do to help that, I was going to do whatever I could to make it happen.”
Cowgill saw vaccines as a way to end the pandemic and its lockdowns more quickly.
So, she began coming to school early or staying late, bouncing between classrooms to see if anyone needed help scheduling appointments.
Understanding a sprawling vaccine operation
Cowgill began to learn tricks of the trade.
When she got her vaccine, for example, she used the state’s official website to book her appointment at CVS. Now, she goes directly to CVS’ website to help co-workers book appointments.
Cowgill has also had success booking appointments early in the morning. She said she will come to school at about 6 a.m. and work with fellow teachers on multiple devices to try to select a slot
“Be quick before the appointment is no longer available,” she said of her thinking. “Try other zip codes or cities, if you’re willing to travel. Be open to different time frames.”
As the national vaccine rollout continues, teachers are slowly getting vaccinated at a higher rate.
With immunizations proliferating among her colleagues, Cowgill still has advice, though, for the general public, which will likely soon rush to appointment portals en masse as Massachusetts is set to broaden its eligibility this month.
“Be persistent. Don’t give up,” Cowgill said.
Photos/courtesy Emma Furmanick