CHATHAM — Ronnie Pickral exited through a side door of Chatham Middle School on Wednesday morning excited to have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
He just didn’t have a vaccination card to prove it.
Pickral rushed back inside to make sure he secured the card that he had forgotten during his initial trip through the school’s cafeteria.
When he exited a second time, the bus driver for one of Mount Airy Elementary School's routes expressed his relief that he is now vaccinated.
“I know a few people who say they’re not going to take it because they don’t think it has been developed and tested enough, but I trust what they [health department officials] say about it,” Pickral, 71, said. “I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I feel more secure, more protected.”
Because his job calls for him to be around students, he said it was smart to sign up for the vaccine.
“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I don’t want to take a chance on the children getting sick or me getting sick from them.”
Pickral was not alone on Wednesday, as about 250 Pittsylvania County School employees received their first shots in the arm in hopes of fending off the coronavirus, which has infected more than 513,000 Virginians to date, based on data from the Virginia Department of Health.
Wednesday’s vaccination event gave preference to elderly school system employees because they are at the highest risk of contracting the disease. Assistant Superintendent for Administration Steven Mayhew said the district’s employees have expressed strong interest in receiving the vaccine.
“The fact that everybody wants to get it is very promising because we’ve been [teaching] in person since September 28th,” Mayhew said. “The folks who want the vaccine, we’re trying to get them in there as quickly as possible based on the criteria we had established based on their age.”
Although teachers and staff members were eligible to receive the vaccine Wednesday, there were also many other transportation employees like Pickral who signed up.
“We looked forward to getting it,” said Shirley Ferguson, 74, a bus driver for Twin Springs Elementary.
Standing next to her, Dorothy Moser, 76, also a Twin Springs Elementary bus driver, said she thought getting the vaccine was important.
“I figured if the president got it, we need to get it,” she said. “I think at our age, we need it.”
Ruby Barksdale, a bus driver for all three schools in Gretna, said the decision to get the vaccine was made in the best interests of her health and the community around her.
“I’m trying to avoid COVID,” she said. “It’s for your own personal safety, your health, the people you’re around, their health. It’s just a measure to try to protect yourself and others.”
Similarly, Dianne Riendeau, a bus attendant for a Gretna Elementary route driven by her husband, Robert, said anybody working in schools should consider getting the vaccine, and the community at large needs to make plans for it as well.
“I work with kids, and I do not want to get [COVID-19],” she said. “I think everyone should [get vaccinated], and I’m glad we got it now and not later.”
Eddie Hardy, a bus driver for Twin Springs Elementary, said he was excited to get the vaccine even if he was initially somewhat skeptical about it. But at 74 and with a job that involves being around children, he decided getting vaccinated would be for the best.
“I want to take care of my kids on the bus as much as possible,” he said. “We have to sanitize our bus twice a day — after the morning route and after the afternoon route. We’re taking every precaution possible to keep [the virus] down as much as possible.”
Hardy said he’s hopeful that friends and colleagues attempt to get vaccinated as well.
“I would think it’s important to get it,” he said. “Just like you can get a pneumonia shot, a flu shot, if it’ll help your body to fight off any bacteria or viruses, I think it would be great to do it.”