'Kind of a Miracle': Oakville School District Staff Vaccinated by Chehalis Tribe

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The Oakville School District gymnasium operated as a COVID-19 vaccination site for about 50 Oakville and Rochester School District employees on Friday.

The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, provided with doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the state, was able to vaccinate all of their tribal members who were willing and are now branching out to other organizations in their community.

Denise Walker, health director for the Chehalis Tribe, said she is happy the tribe is able to do their part to help students and teachers feel safer in the classroom. The tribe will be back in 28 days to administer the second dose of the vaccine. 

“We just have a good working relationship with the schools and we have a lot of tribal kids and tribal teachers in the schools. We just wanted to do our part to get the students back to school and help the teachers feel safe,” Walker said. “We’re all in this together in Washington state.”

The Chehalis Tribe had a phased approach to administering the vaccine, much like the state, and they vaccinated their elders, first responders and tribal members first. 

“We were hearing the schools weren’t getting vaccinated, and in my opinion, they should have been on the priority list to help get kids back in school, so the chairman said, ‘Hey, can we work with the schools?’” Walker said. “It’s a great feeling to be a part of something that you know is going to matter. The teachers are so appreciative and it makes them feel safer.”

The Oakville School District employs about 50 people, and 28 of them decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Oakville School District Superintendent Rich Staley said that about 35% of Oakville students are a part of the Chehalis Tribe. 

“The perception is pretty positive. It was just kind of a miracle. We were trying to figure out how we were going to get our staff vaccinated,” Staley said. “I think the biggest thing for me is the morale boost amongst staff.”

Staley said that the district employs staff that lives in Thurston, Grays Harbor and Lewis counties, and trying to coordinate with each health department was difficult. 

Oakville kindergarten teacher Mary Keating, 61, was sitting down on the bleachers in the gym on Friday morning waiting out the 15 minutes that is recommended to see if there are any side effects after vaccination.

Keating said she feels more safe coming to work now that she has received the first round of the vaccine and will receive the second dose in about a month.

“This is a really big gift from the Tribe,” she said.

Keating’s daughter, who works as a physical therapist and has already been vaccinated, encouraged her to do whatever she could to get the COVID-19 vaccine to help protect herself from the virus. Keating had registered to be vaccinated through the Thurston County Health Department but didn’t expect to be inoculated until April.

“I have a lot of faith in our medical professionals,” Keating said as to why she chose to get vaccinated. “It’s an interesting time where we learn a lot about people we thought we knew well. These are important decisions and we don’t all decide the same thing.”

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