Thousands of California teachers from urban and suburban school districts who had been waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations finally began receiving their first doses last week, with those numbers expected to climb as the state takes additional steps to prioritize teachers.
Gov. Gavin Newsom tried to give teacher vaccinations a boost last week when he announced that the state would designate 10%, or 75,000, of its vaccine doses each week for school employees. The new plan starts March 1. The vaccines will be prioritized for school workers who are returning to classrooms.
Formerly, most of the teachers who were vaccinated worked in rural districts in counties that had quickly vaccinated people higher on the state’s priority list and moved on to school staff. But now counties with some of the largest school districts are putting shots in teachers’ arms.
In Sacramento County, almost every large school district held a shot clinic last week for school staff. San Joaquin County is vaccinating more than a 1,000 school employees daily at a vaccination site, and in Alameda County mobile vans fanned out across the county to vaccinate school staff last week.
Last week, Contra Costa County also began vaccinating teachers, and Orange and San Mateo counties now offer appointments as vaccines become available. The city of San Francisco plans to begin vaccinating teachers Feb. 24, and San Diego and Santa Clara counties will begin vaccinating school staff in the next two weeks.
Los Angeles Unified held a single vaccination clinic for district staff on Feb. 17 at Roybal Learning Center, but was able to inoculate only 100 people because of the vaccine shortage. District officials had expected 2,000 doses, according to the Los Angeles Times. The county is planning to officially begin vaccinating school staff, including teachers, in March.
Because vaccine supplies are limited, some counties, or cities with health departments, like the city of Berkeley, are limiting educator vaccinations to those currently working with students in-person.
‘We can’t wait to have our kids back’
“We can’t wait to have our kids back and this is one giant step toward getting them back,” said Jeremy Sinclair, 42, a counselor at Venture Academy in Stockton, after getting his first vaccine dose Friday. “I personally feel better not only for myself, but for the students I’m going to come in contact with.”
Sinclair whizzed through the vaccination clinic at the San Joaquin County Office of Education in just 6 minutes, plus the required 15-minute waiting period to ensure there are no adverse reactions. Sinclair was one of the first to be vaccinated at the clinic because he volunteered to help with traffic control.
Sinclair credited the office of education’s CodeStack Division for his speedy experience. The division developed a program that allows a user to download a QR code on their phone that can be scanned at various stations while going through the vaccination clinic. The QR code holds all the patient’s information, so there are fewer papers to sign or exchange. It also generates the appointment for the second dose of the vaccine.
The San Joaquin County Office of Education scheduled 1,000 teachers and other school staff from district, charter and private K-12 schools for COVID-19 vaccinations, which they received Friday. An additional 9,000 are scheduled for vaccinations this week and 1,300 the week of March 3. About 50% of those who received invitations for the clinics scheduled appointments, said Jane Steinkamp, assistant superintendent of educational services.
“It’s been a Herculean effort,” she said of organizing the clinics. “We do a lot of large events and have done vaccination and flu clinics, but haven’t done a vaccination clinic as a large event.”
The clinics, which Steinkamp said are the only ones in the state run by a county office of education, require 250 volunteers each day, including 80 school nurses from county schools and 40 additional nurses.
The county office of education will continue to give vaccinations if it receives more doses and there are people who want it, Steinkamp said. The county has 22,000 school employees.
It’s been slow going for school staff
The vaccine rollout for teachers and school staff has been slow. The vaccine is still in short supply, and teachers have had to compete with 8 million Californians for limited doses in crowded Phase 1B of the state’s priority list. Phase 1B includes everyone age 65 and older, food service and agriculture workers, child care workers and emergency service employees.
Most counties have completed or nearly completed vaccinating people in Phase 1A, which includes medical workers.
Although the state decided on the phases that make up its priority list, counties have largely decided who gets precedence within each phase. Most counties have prioritized people age 65 and older in Phase 1B, but others also have given precedence to emergency services workers and teachers. Even vaccination clinics within counties can have different priorities.
Vaccine supply is the biggest hurdle to getting Californians vaccinated against COVID-19. The precarious nature of the supply chain was evident last week when several scheduled vaccination clinics were canceled because severe winter storms prevented the vaccine from being transported to the state.
Teachers from four small south Sacramento County school districts were disappointed when a joint vaccination clinic scheduled for Feb. 17 was canceled because of the storm that hit the East Coast. The clinic, rescheduled for this Wednesday (Feb. 24) at Liberty Ranch High School in Galt, will provide vaccinations to 1,200 people, including school employees and members of the community.
Galt Joint Union Elementary School District Superintendent Karen Schauer says about 60% of her employees are signed up for the clinic.The district was one of the many Sacramento County school districts that planned vaccination clinics last week as part of a countywide plan to vaccinate school staff. The county opened COVID-19 vaccinations to school staff on Feb. 16.
Districts were asked to work with community partners to open permanent or pop-up vaccination clinics for school staff and other community members who are eligible for vaccines, said Dave Gordon, county superintendent of schools.
Larger school districts held their own clinics, while smaller districts like Galt Joint Union Elementary were clustered with other small districts at one vaccination site. In this case, Galt Joint Union Elementary teamed up with the Galt Joint Union High School District, Arcohe Union School District and River Delta Unified School District. The districts worked with the City of Galt and the Cosumnes Community Services District Fire Department to operate the vaccination clinic.
“I think it’s going well,” said Gordon of the Sacramento County vaccination plan. “The question is the supply, or whether we will have enough vaccine available to get this done in a timely fashion.”
* Story originally published by EdSource.