On Thursday, California health officials released a detailed roadmap with priorities for how and which school employees can get vaccines first, starting with those already back in-person and those with plans to return to campus in about three weeks.
The number of vaccines that each school district or childcare organization receives will be determined by a formula that prioritizes districts with a high portion of low-income students, as well as those that have been hit hard by Covid-19.
The plan released by the California Department of Public Health this week was in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement that 10% of vaccines, or approximately 75,000 vaccines a week, would be reserved for teachers and other school staff beginning March 1. Until now, it was unclear how Newsom’s proposed allocation plan would be implemented.
In addition to ongoing vaccinations being led at the county level, the state is also partnering with FEMA to launch vaccination days specifically for educators at the Oakland Coliseum and Cal State L.A.
Some teachers have already been directed to get shots at large vaccination sites even if it is not in their county. At a recent West Contra Costa Unified board meeting, staff members were told they could sign up for an appointment at the Oakland Coliseum location even if they live and work in Contra Costa County, which has also started vaccinating teachers.
Now, teachers can also sign up for a priority slot using the state’s vaccine delivery system, MyTurn.ca.gov. Those eligible for the vaccine also include substitute teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food service workers, custodial service workers and administrators, as well as on-site staff supporting meal distribution or technological access for students.
Educators must use a unique online code to book an appointment through the state vaccine website. Those codes will be distributed by the state to county offices of education, which will then allocate them among local districts and child care centers to deliver to school staff. Each week, the state is aiming to distribute up to 75,000 codes, which teachers can use to book a single appointment at a local vaccination site.
Access codes will be allocated based on the size of the district staff as well as the local student population. Districts where students have been heavily impacted by the pandemic, such as those with higher portions of low-income students, English learners and foster youth, will also be prioritized in the state’s calculation for distributing the codes in an effort to speed up safe school reopening in hard-hit communities.
That’s because in many parts of the state, communities that have had the highest rates of Covid-19 are least likely to get the vaccine. In Los Angeles, for example, higher percentages of white and Asian American residents are receiving doses than Native American, Black and Latino residents.
But already some California residents have tried to grab appointment access codes that were reserved for Black and Latino populations who were more at risk of Covid-19. Access codes have been circulating among wealthier groups who work from home, allowing them to cut in line, according to the Los Angeles Times. The state, in response, has attempted to curb the issue by making access codes good for only one appointment, so it can’t be shared.
Priority for the vaccines will also be given to teachers who are working in-person or who are going to return to campus within 21 days; however, some flexibility with that timeframe may be given depending on supply and school reopening plans.
Getting shots into teachers’ arms will be a crucial element to bringing students and staff back to campus for in-person instruction.
Although California and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both said that districts can reopen safely without vaccinating teachers if they follow other safety guidelines, many districts have included teacher vaccinations as a component of their safe reopening plans and agreements with teachers unions.
In San Francisco Unified, district and union leaders have agreed that teachers must be offered a vaccine if they are asked to return to their classrooms while the county is still in the red tier of the state’s color-coded infection guide. If San Francisco drops to the less restrictive orange tier, then teachers do not need to be given the opportunity to be vaccinated before students return to in-person instruction.
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner has made it clear that vaccinating teachers is a must before students return.
“To vaccinate the people who work in these schools, we would need to vaccinate about 25,000 people. You heard that right — vaccinating 25,000 people will allow us to reopen elementary school classrooms for 250,000 children and help their half-million-plus family members start on the path to recovery and allow many of them to go back to work,” Beutner said on Feb. 17.
While nearby Long Beach Unified has already offered a vaccine to all of its K-2 teachers and staff, Los Angeles Unified and many other districts have had a much slower experience vaccinating teachers. At a single-day vaccination drive that the district set up in early February, only 100 out of an expected 2,000 teachers received a vaccine due to supply shortages, according to the Los Angeles Times.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County announced updates to its vaccine distribution plan which includes setting aside 91% of doses available for educators specifically for public schools.
As of Thursday, more than 8 million Californians had been vaccinated, primarily among health care workers and long-term care residents in the state’s Phase 1A category for vaccine distribution. Teachers, individuals 65 and older, agricultural workers and emergency services workers, all part of the Phase 1B tier, have all started to get shots but low supply across the state and county have meant slower roll-outs.
Thousands of teachers have already started to receive their first and in some cases second doses of Covid-19 vaccinations this month. But many teachers, in particular those in dense urban areas, such as Los Angeles County, have been unable to secure a shot for themselves as supply shortages and appointment wait lists slow down the Governor’s ambitious inoculation plans.
Epidemiologists say that things could pick up soon, however, now that a Covid-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is on track for approval in the next few weeks or even days. Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two shots given about three weeks apart, the latest vaccine would only require a single dose.
“As difficult as the decision was to close school classrooms, reopening is even harder. We must balance the learning needs of students, the support we provide to working families and the responsibility to protect the health and safety of all in the school community,” Beutner said. “We cannot — and will not — compromise on health and safety.”
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