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Big Sky and West Yellowstone school districts held COVID-19 vaccination clinics for staff members on Thursday, marking a sign of hope for the two school districts as they navigate the pandemic.

The districts vaccinated educators as part of a partnership with local pharmacies, which are eligible to receive doses through a federal program distributing doses to K-12 educators.

Dustin Shipman, superintendent of Big Sky School District, said 64 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered to staff members from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday. He estimates roughly 90% of his staff have received at least one dose.

A Big Sky School Board member began calling pharmacies in the state after President Joe Biden announced the federal program to provide teachers with at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of March until they found one able to vaccinate their teachers.

Teachers and other educators are not yet eligible at the state level and cannot receive a vaccine through the state’s allocation, which largely is being sent to local health departments and health care providers.

The state has focused vaccination efforts on adults 60 years and older, individuals with certain medical conditions, people of color and health care workers.

“It was important for us that our faculty and staff would have access to that should they want it,” Shipman said. “Things are looking better now, but two to three weeks ago, staff didn’t know when they might be eligible for a vaccine.”

Thursday was an exciting day for the district’s staff members, Shipman said.

“If you’re getting vaccinated against something that could be deadly for you or a family member, there’s a lot of relief if you’re able to get that vaccine,” he said.

Most Big Sky staff will receive a second dose on April 6.

West Yellowstone School District also held a staff vaccination clinic on Thursday through a partnership with the same pharmacy owner Big Sky worked with, Josh Morris.

West Yellowstone Schools Superintendent Brian Smith said the district vaccinated 20 staff members on Thursday, including coaches and substitute teachers.

Smith said other teachers have qualified for vaccines through the state’s 1A and 1B phases or attended a vaccination clinic organized by a dispatcher with the West Yellowstone fire department.

“There’s a little bit of relief,” Smith said. “… It’s good to see some progress and there’s a little bit more to put your mind at ease.”

Smith estimated there were roughly 50 full-time employees for the 287-student K-12 school.

The two clinics come a week after Bozeman School District partnered with Osco Pharmacy on March 11 and 12 to vaccinate about 400 educators. The district plans to offer additional clinics after surveying the need of employees.

Both Big Sky and West Yellowstone districts started the school year with full in-person learning in the fall.

Big Sky School District in October implemented voluntary surveillance testing of students and staff members. For the past two weeks, the district tested 257 one week and 273 another and had zero positive cases. On March 4, the district had one positive test out of 276 surveillance tests.

West Yellowstone moved to remote learning for two weeks — one in November and another in February — due to quarantines and staff shortages, but the district staff and students did a good job of working together to keep cases low, Smith said.

With the vaccine arriving, he said, “there’s a lot of hope.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at or 582-2633.

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