Less than a month after COVID-19 vaccinations began in the territory, St. John has entered “Phase 1B” of the vaccination plan recommended by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

As part of this expansion into Phase 1B, about 80 percent of Gifft Hill School’s faculty received the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday at the school’s upper campus.

In the two weeks since Island Health & Wellness Center founder Sandy Colasacco began administering the vaccine to St. John residents, she’s vaccinated 65 people with about 20 more scheduled for today.

In addition to GHS staff, Colasacco and medical assistant Danielle De Leon have vaccinated staff and members of various frontline businesses and organizations including Chelsea Drug Store, St. John Rescue, and the Canines, Cats, and Critters veterinarian facility.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna versions of the vaccine have been given to St. John residents. Colasacco noted that neither vaccine contains the coronavirus.

“The vaccines mimic what the virus would do to your immune system, causing your immune system to ramp up,” she said. “There is absolutely no virus in these vaccines.”

Colasacco, who’s received the vaccine herself along with her staff, said the response has been good.

“We’ve had a lot more response from people than I thought we would, so that’s been really exciting,” she said. “I was very excited to get mine. We’re hoping to get people vaccinated as soon as we can.”

Colasacco stressed that those who receive the vaccine must continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing, because those who are vaccinated can still be carriers of COVID-19, potentially spreading the virus to others.

Although Gifft Hill’s staff vaccinations will not change the school’s COVID policies — which include frequent handwashing and sanitization, wearing a mask, and taking student temperatures upon arrival at the school each day — the protection the vaccine offers is sure to alleviate some of the stress that comes with providing in-person instruction during a global pandemic, said the school’s Director of Curriculum Liz Kinsella.

“For those who are getting the vaccine, the low-level chronic stress will really be alleviated,” she said.

“When I got the call from Sandy that we were definitely eligible for the vaccine, I hung up from that call and I was almost giddy. But if you’d asked me 10 minutes earlier if I was stressed or anxious, I would have said no. It wasn’t until hanging up the phone that I realized there was this weight I’d been carrying that I didn’t perceive.

To be able to care for our students, their families, and the community with one less worry about yourself really makes the job of being a teacher more sustainable. The relief that teachers have expressed about being able to have this choice, and to have it so soon after it was available nationally, has been awesome because it’s just one less weight they have to carry when they’re in the classrooms working with kids.”

With public schools expected to begin a hybrid model of learning this month after being fully virtual for the 2020-2021 school year, V.I. Education Department teachers, support staff, and employees across the department have been given the opportunity to volunteer to receive the vaccine, said Education Public Relations and Communications Director Cynthia Graham.

VITEMA is coordinating the scheduling of employees for the vaccine with local providers.

The coronavirus vaccine is free to Virgin Islands residents. Currently, Island Health & Wellness Center is the only place to receive the vaccine on St. John.

Those who are interested should email info@islandhealthcenter.org with their name, date of birth, and phone number, and Island Health will call to set up an appointment once you’re eligible.

The vaccine is currently available to those in phases 1A and 1B. The CDC website outlines who is eligible under each of these phases.