Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
West Contra Costa Unified may become the first district in Northern California to require eligible students be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of October to attend classes in person.
This post has been updated to reflect Gov. Gavin Newsom's remarks on the topic at a Jan. 11 press conference.

Teachers and school employees in Mariposa County are expected to be among the first of California’s 1.4 million teachers and other school staff to be vaccinated for Covid-19 when they roll up their sleeves for the shot on Monday. 

Half of the rural county’s school staff, 146 people so far, have signed up for the vaccination, said Mariposa County Health Officer Eric Sergienko. A team of nurses will travel from school to school to vaccinate those who have registered to receive the immunization.

All 15 schools in the county of 17,000 residents in the Sierra Nevada foothills have been back to in-person instruction since October. Although the county is in the red tier, which signifies a substantial Covid-19 infection rate, it is one of only four California counties that is not in the purple tier, the most restrictive status due to widespread infection rates.

In an effort to accelerate what has widely been considered a slow rollout of vaccines, California officials urged health care providers last Thursday to complete vaccinating medical workers and to move on to the next phase, which would include child care workers, elementary and secondary school personnel and staff at community colleges, universities and trade schools.

That next phase, known as Phase 1B also includes emergency services employees, food and agriculture workers and people 75 and older — an additional 8.1 million Californians. The first group prioritized for vaccines are in Phase 1A, to be followed by Phases 1B and 1C.

Monday Governor Gavin Newsom formally announced that the state is allowing flexibility to ensure that vaccines don’t expire or otherwise go unused. That means that teachers and others in the Phase 1B group could be vaccinated if healthcare workers in Tier 1 are not available for a vaccine.

“People in the education system can expect to start getting vaccinated, childcare, teachers, paraprofessionals across the board,” Newsom said.

Mariposa County is able to move on to vaccinating teachers and others in Phase 1B because it has nearly completed vaccinating medical staff, who are in Phase 1A. Larger counties like Los Angeles are likely to take longer to begin vaccinating school staff because they still have many health care providers to vaccinate. Los Angeles County predicts it will be able to begin Phase 1B in early February.

Putting teachers high on the vaccination list is just one of the latest moves by Newsom meant to help California schools reopen as quickly as possible. The governor recently announced the “Safe Schools for All” plan, which focuses on reopening schools to the state’s youngest students as soon as February.

President-elect Joe Biden also wants most schools to be reopened in his first 100 days in office. He is asking Congress to vote for funding, so that schools can purchase supplies and pay for the staff needed to reopen schools safely.

But vaccinating teachers may not be enough to earn support for a quick reopening of all schools from teachers’ unions, who must consent to reopening plans.

It’s certainly an important part, but remember, right now there’s no research evidence that the vaccine alone eliminates or reduces transmissions,” said Claudia Briggs, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “It reduces illness.”

Getting the vaccine does not immediately eliminate the need for the multiple layers of safety measures at schools, including improved ventilation systems, cleaning and robust testing and tracing programs, Briggs said. School safety plans must be paired with accurate and transparent data collection and enforcement of all social distancing standards and protocols, such as requiring masks, she said. According to Briggs, many schools are struggling to put all of these safety measures in place.

With the current surge, no school in counties with purple-tier transmission rates and risk should be open or proceed with reopening, Briggs said. 

Last week, 54 of the state’s 58 counties were in Tier 1, or purple, status, meaning there are more than seven cases per 100,000 residents or more than 8% of test results were positive over a seven-day period.

Representatives of the California Teachers Association have frequently expressed concern to lawmakers about reopening schools in communities where transmission rates are high and where schools do not have adequate testing, contact tracing or personal protective equipment. Although the governor’s new reopening plan addresses many of these issues, there are still unanswered questions about implementation, said CTA president E. Toby Boyd in a statement

There are several other hurdles to reopening schools, including a shortage of teacher substitutes and other staff, as well as uncertainty about funds to cover education and health costs.

A 16-member Drafting Guidelines Work Group, appointed by Newsom, prioritized the order of vaccinations with input from the 60-member Community Vaccine Advisory Committee. The committee is chaired by California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris and is made up of representatives from health associations, unions, civil rights organizations and nonprofits.

The state has set a goal of completing 1 million Covid-19 vaccinations by Friday, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan at a meeting of the advisory committee last week.

About 3 million to 4 million people in Phases 1A and 1B are expected to be vaccinated by the end of the month. Another 6 million people in Phase 1B and Phase 1C are expected to be vaccinated in February. 

To be fully vaccinated, each person must get an initial vaccination and then a booster three to four weeks later. Recipients are expected to be fully protected by the vaccine a week after the last vaccination. Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are reported to be about 95% effective.

I think it’s a great thing they are moving teachers toward the front,” said Chris Evans, superintendent of Natomas Unified in Sacramento. “This would be a significant step toward a return to normal at schools. I think the return is a ways off because of the slow rate of vaccination.”

How vaccines will be distributed to school staff across the state is unclear. Sergienko suggests that teachers check with their principal, superintendent or school nurse to find out if any vaccination clinics are planned.

Evans said he hasn’t heard anything about how the vaccinations will be distributed to school staff in Natomas Unified and would be willing to add vaccinations to the services offered at the district’s Covid-19 testing clinic.

San Joaquin County’s Office of Education has applied to become a vaccination site for teachers and first responders, said Sheri Coburn, its director of comprehensive health programs. In anticipation, staff ordered 4,000 doses of vaccine and purchased a freezer to keep them viable.

“The time crunch with vaccinations is recognizing that people have pandemic fatigue,” Sergienko said. “The sooner we get a large percentage of the population vaccinated, the more we will have a reduction in transmission and a reduction in the number of cases.”

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  1. joanie 10 months ago10 months ago

    I am a daycare worker (ages 3 to 5), We have been open in person since the beginnig of September. I have friends who are elementary teachers in schools that are also open since the fall. I agree the vaccine should be offered to those in class rooms over those teachers who are still fighting not to re-open.

  2. Gina 11 months ago11 months ago

    I have been in person elementary teaching since late September. In person educators need the vaccine now!

  3. Eileen 11 months ago11 months ago

    What about those of us teachers who do not want to take this experimental vaccine? Vaccines are already being pulled because of side effects. I do not feel safe being experimented on.

  4. Michelle Harvey 11 months ago11 months ago

    Why is it all of a sudden safe to open schools in purple tier in counties such as Ventura, which have 0% ICU beds available and with increasing Covid hospitalizations? Our teacher and para unions have zero effect convincing the board to wait for our boots on the ground to be vaccinated. We are educators, not day care providers. We deserve to be safe in the workplace. We deserve the right to keep everyone on … Read More

    Why is it all of a sudden safe to open schools in purple tier in counties such as Ventura, which have 0% ICU beds available and with increasing Covid hospitalizations? Our teacher and para unions have zero effect convincing the board to wait for our boots on the ground to be vaccinated.

    We are educators, not day care providers. We deserve to be safe in the workplace. We deserve the right to keep everyone on campus and their families safe. Policymakers hiding behind Zoom cameras couldn’t care less. Sending medically fragile, special needs students back to school without protection as well as staff is absolutely criminal.

  5. Marisa E Torres 11 months ago11 months ago

    I’m a 1st year TK teacher in SOCal, I feel so ready to give up the profession. I pray I can get the vaccine soon.

  6. Shasta Teacher 11 months ago11 months ago

    I teach and live in Shasta County, we have been in person 5 days a week full day since the beginning of the school year. It can be done. Of course we have had cases, but school has carried on.

  7. Star 11 months ago11 months ago

    As a substitute teacher I would really like to know whether we are considered part of the education group that is able to get vaccinated or if we are going to be continuing to go to schools without the ability for vaccination?

  8. SD Parent 11 months ago11 months ago

    I fully support TK-12 teachers to be part of the next wave of vaccinations if they commit to providing in-person instruction two weeks after their second vaccination appointment. For those educators who have lots of other reservations that would prevent them from returning to the classroom, they can wait until those other concerns have been addressed and allow other members of the public who are more at risk (e.g. the elderly and those with … Read More

    I fully support TK-12 teachers to be part of the next wave of vaccinations if they commit to providing in-person instruction two weeks after their second vaccination appointment. For those educators who have lots of other reservations that would prevent them from returning to the classroom, they can wait until those other concerns have been addressed and allow other members of the public who are more at risk (e.g. the elderly and those with underlying health conditions) to be vaccinated first.

  9. Zeev Wurman 11 months ago11 months ago

    If it were up to me, teachers would be last in line after all essential workers like gas-station operators, grocery clerks, trash collectors and all others who were required to risk their lives to provide our community's services during these trying times. Most teachers and particularly their unions resist returning to work as long as there is any risk and ignore the damage done to their students in that process. Given that, it is clear that … Read More

    If it were up to me, teachers would be last in line after all essential workers like gas-station operators, grocery clerks, trash collectors and all others who were required to risk their lives to provide our community’s services during these trying times. Most teachers and particularly their unions resist returning to work as long as there is any risk and ignore the damage done to their students in that process.

    Given that, it is clear that teachers do not treat their own occupation as essential. Consequently, there is little reason to give them a priority at vaccinations.

    Replies

    • Leslie 11 months ago11 months ago

      :( Why villainize teachers, Mr. Wurman? We want to get back to the classroom when safe. We are working our tails off re-creating curriculum to engage students from afar, tracking progress, providing students with worksheets we can do together . I am working from 8 AM to 8 PM each day. Why are we unreasonable to suggest that we not un-do all the disease prevention that has been done through Distance Learning? Students … Read More

      🙁
      Why villainize teachers, Mr. Wurman? We want to get back to the classroom when safe. We are working our tails off re-creating curriculum to engage students from afar, tracking progress, providing students with worksheets we can do together . I am working from 8 AM to 8 PM each day.

      Why are we unreasonable to suggest that we not un-do all the disease prevention that has been done through Distance Learning? Students are learning. We’ll get them back together when safe for all. We are so close to the end.

    • Nikole 11 months ago11 months ago

      Zeev...I understand your opinion but clearly you are not a teacher nor know any teachers personally; if you did your, comment would be different. Wow, it really is comments like this one that make our career look like we are all sitting on our butts doing nothing all day when in reality we work more unpaid hours than any other profession. Next time you think teachers do nothing, look at where you are in life: … Read More

      Zeev…I understand your opinion but clearly you are not a teacher nor know any teachers personally; if you did your, comment would be different. Wow, it really is comments like this one that make our career look like we are all sitting on our butts doing nothing all day when in reality we work more unpaid hours than any other profession. Next time you think teachers do nothing, look at where you are in life: You didn’t get there without teachers.

  10. Sue Britson 11 months ago11 months ago

    I’d like to see an article about child care workers, who are front line essential workers who’ve been working in close contact with young children for many months. They should receive vaccine sub prioritization in Phase 1b above K-12 personnel who are not yet in contact with students.

    Replies

    • CA Teacher 11 months ago11 months ago

      Several districts in this state are in person and have been for several months now!!!