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story.lead_photo.caption Jennifer Uptergrove, first-grade teacher at Lawson Elementary School in Jefferson City, receives the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Friday, March 19, 2021, inside The Linc. Photo by Jefferson City School District

Cole County school staff and other essential workers arrived at The Linc on Friday filled with hope as Missouri National Guard members ushered them to their seats.

Upbeat music played as they got a shot in the arm, leaving with feelings of relief.

"It felt like a party in there — a really weird party," Blair Oaks High School Spanish teacher Kristin Struckhoff said. "It felt amazing. It's like partly a weight's been lifted from my shoulders."

Local health care providers hosted a mass COVID-19 vaccination event Friday at The Linc in Jefferson City. Cole County school staff had the opportunity to register first for the event.

Missouri's Phase 1B, Tier 3, which includes critical infrastructure workers, was activated Monday.

There were almost 1,900 scheduled appointments for Friday's event. About 24 people were vaccinated every five minutes, Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell said. Leftover doses will be used for clinics next week.

Gov. Mike Parson, who attended the event Friday morning, said it's exciting to see the state's vaccination plan become fully executed as vaccines become more available.

"As you see the vaccines picking up, the plan really starts to come more and more into effect," he said. "Things are looking better every day."

Julie Kuhlmann, a substitute teacher at Trinity Lutheran School in Jefferson City, said she was so happy to get the vaccine she had to tell herself not to cry.

"It feels like finally an opportunity to return to whatever normal means — spend time with family and friends and back to our activities that we like to do, more so than we've been able to," she said.

Substitute teacher Aloha Gerbes, who currently teaches almost every day in the Jefferson City School District, said she's grateful for the opportunity for school staff to get vaccinated and help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

"I'm thankful for all the volunteers that came out and made it possible," she said. "It's set up just so wonderful."

Kristin Buschjost, a family and consumer science teacher at Blair Oaks High School, said she feels like she doesn't have to worry as much now after getting the first shot.

"It's just relieved a lot of anxiety," she said. "I'm just happy and thankful to be able to get it and appreciative of the schools and the county and everybody affording us the opportunity."

Many people were involved with the event, including Cole County school administrators and Cole County Health Department staff, who have been planning it for months.

Staff from the Cole County Health Department, Community Health Center of Central Missouri, SSM Health, Capital Region Medical Center, Jefferson City Medical Group and Cole County Emergency Medical Services, as well as Lincoln University nursing students, helped administer vaccines.

Jefferson City School District Superintendent Larry Linthacum said he appreciates the collaboration it took to make the vaccination event happen.

"It's a team effort, and it's an event that I think kind of models what we believe as a community — we're stronger together," he said.

Cole County schools took different approaches to ensure staff could attend the vaccination event. Some had the day off to allow staff to get vaccinated. Others were already on spring break.

Some, such as JC Schools, had early releases or late starts. School staff were not required to get vaccinated, but school leaders wanted to ensure they had the opportunity to, Linthacum said.

"We want to thank our parents and our staff for working with us and understanding that," he said. "We recognize the sacrifice on their part as part of their students having a three-hour early out, but I think folks realize how important it is for our staff."

While this past year has been one of the toughest times for everyone, we're heading in the right direction as COVID-19 cases decrease in Missouri, Parson said.

He said he encourages everybody to get the vaccine because it will decrease fatalities and the number of people in hospitals.

"I think it's the right thing to do," he said.

To register for a vaccine, visit covidvaccine.mo.gov.

This article was updated at 2:45 p.m. March 19, 2021, with new information.

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