California teachers could get Covid-19 vaccinations starting in February

January 26, 2021

Yolanda Javier, left, gives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to a Los Angels resident at St. John's Well Child & Family Center in Jan. 2021.

A state effort to develop a more streamlined approach to vaccinating California residents against Covid-19 may get teachers their shots sooner.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the changes, which include a transition to an age-based eligibility system, in a press conference Monday. Starting next month, teachers and others in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination priority list could begin to be vaccinated, even in counties where healthcare workers, who are in Phase 1A, are still being vaccinated. 

“Specifically, we believe that the cohort 65 and older needs to be prioritized alongside healthcare workers, first responders, food and agriculture workers and school staff and teachers,” said Newsom, in a press conference on Monday.

The plan — which will be rolled out uniformly across all 58 counties — will be implemented in mid-February pending vaccination availability, according to additional information released by the state Tuesday.

Phase IB includes emergency services employees, food and agriculture workers and people 65 and older, as well as teachers. But when they will actually get vaccinated will depend on how many vaccine doses come into the state and are made available in each county.

“We want to work through that cohort and continue to do what we can to vaccinate the vaccinators, our first responders, our farm workers, our critical workers on the front lines and our food delivery system and our teachers in order to get schools reopened as well as our support staff that’s so foundational, critical not to ever be forgotten as it relates to making schools work,” Newsom said Monday.

The announcement comes as school districts across California grapple with an unpredictable vaccine supply and a lack of statewide coordination in order to figure out how and when to vaccinate their teachers in order to reopen schools. The result has been wide disparities in how far along school districts in different parts of the state are in vaccinating school staff.

A letter sent to members of the Community Vaccine Advisory Committee from Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California surgeon general, and Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist, on Monday says that while 2 million doses of vaccine have been administered the state has several challenges to overcome, including spotty data collection, a lack of statewide coordination among its 61 local health jurisdictions in regard to eligibility requirements and decentralized accountability.

“In short, there is no clear and easy way to tell people when it was their turn and where to go when it was,” says the letter.

The statewide plan is meant to address those issues, according to the letter.

This is the second time this month that Newsom has moved teachers higher on the state’s vaccination eligibility list in an effort to get schools reopened. In December the governor announced “Safe Schools for All,”an ambitious plan to reopen some schools as early as February.

In the meantime, school superintendents across the state continue to push to get their staffs vaccinated.

Last week all 13 Sacramento County school district superintendents and Sacramento County Office of Education Superintendent Dave Gordon signed a letter asking Newsom to prioritize vaccinating teachers and school staff over Covid-19 testing.

“The administration of vaccines is more critical than expanding the capacity or testing of staff and students as they will minimize the risk of infection for teachers and students returning to schools,” they wrote. “The lack of a coordinated vaccination plan for educators at the state and local level will prolong and inevitably jeopardize plans for the reopening of schools.”

The letter asks for the governor’s support to make vaccine doses available for teachers and school staff so that schools can reopen. Sacramento County school officials are developing a coordinated plan to vaccinate all school staff in the county within a “very short time frame” once vaccine doses are made available.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner has been pushing hard to be allowed to open vaccination clinics for staff, students and the community at schools in the state’s largest school district.

“There’s a unique and important benefit to vaccinating all who work in schools — doing so will help reopen schools sooner,” Beutner said Monday. “This will not only protect the health and safety of staff but will provide enormous benefit to children and their families with a faster reopening of schools and of the economy more broadly by enabling the working families we serve to go back to work.”

He expressed frustration at the slow rollout of vaccines, which he called critical to reopening schools.

“It’s not enough to just say the words ‘schools need to reopen.’ State and local government leaders need to match words with deeds — they must act to reduce the spread of the virus in the communities our schools serve, create a clear standard for a safe school that all can understand and quickly vaccinate school staff. Once that’s done, we’ll be at the school front door with big smiles (under our masks) to welcome students and their teachers back to classrooms where they belong.”

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