Educators soon to get COVID-19 vaccines

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A targeted effort to vaccinate teachers and school employees against COVID-19 in Orange County is now underway but it could be impacted by the availability of vaccines which have been in short supply.

Starting next week, all school-based employees in Orange County will be eligible for vaccination, according to Ian Hanigan, Chief Communications Officer for the Orange County Department of Education. Orange County is also allocating 30% of its new vaccine shipments for educators, childcare workers and employees in food and agriculture sectors.

OCDE and the Orange County Health Care Agency are working with local school districts to streamline the process of getting shots for teachers and school employees using the county-run vaccination sign-up program, Othena.

Last week, the county set up its first vaccination point-of-distribution (POD) site just for educators. The POD in Garden Grove delivered doses to 200 people on Feb. 18.

For this week, the Garden Grove site will remain focused on getting shots to the roughly 1,100 school employees aged 65 or older who need doses, and anyone not in that group will be turned away.  Starting March 1, vaccinations will be open to all school employees.

Employees will have appointments confirmed through Othena and should bring a current paycheck stub and valid identification.

“We are continuing to work with our agency partners on plans for additional [educator vaccination] sites and have discussed targeted locations in Anaheim, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano,” Hanigan wrote in an email on Friday but noted, “At this time, however, our focus is on making sure the current site runs as efficiently as possible.”

The goal is to have seven school-based vaccination sites up and running by mid-April with staffing, including school nurses, to deliver about 350 shots a day depending on vaccine supplies. That’s according to a memo sent by OCDE to school districts on Monday.

Los Alamitos Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Andrew Pulver shared the memo with the Event-News Enterprise.

The OCDE memo stressed that vaccinating the roughly 150,000 school employees in Orange County will take time and will depend on the availability of vaccines.

The county-run Super POD site at Disneyland temporarily closed last week after severe weather across the country delayed the delivery of COVID-19 vaccine supplies across California.

Beginning next week, educators in Orange County will also be able to sign up for vaccinations through pharmacies, their doctors and private clinics.

On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced he would set aside 10% of the state’s weekly allocated vaccine doses for educators starting in March. Newsom’s move is seen as a way to speed up the reopening of campuses especially in districts that see a return to in-person

instruction contingent on getting school staff vaccinated.

According to a recent Public Policy Institute of California report, more than half of California’s school districts are open for some in-person instruction. The PPIC reports that for the fall of 2020, 47% of districts were offering remote learning only. Statewide COVID-19 infections and deaths are down significantly from the surge during December and January.

Last week, the Long Beach Unified School District announced it would reopen TK through 5th grade classrooms for hybrid in-person education at the end of March. LBUSD set a goal to offer the vaccine to all of its employees and reported that “thousands of LBUSD employees have received these vaccines in recent weeks.”

Many teachers in the Los Alamitos Unified School District, which has schools in Los Alamitos, Rossmoor and Seal Beach, have been anxiously waiting for their turn to be vaccinated, according to Stacy Schmitz, Union President of the Los Alamitos Education Association.

LAUSD’s nine campuses have been open for hybrid in-person instruction since September 2020 with Los Alamitos High School switching to distance-learning for a few weeks in December.

“I get a lot of emails and texts asking for updates,” Schmitz said during a phone interview on Monday. Schmitz, who teaches at Weaver Elementary, said LAUSD has done a good job keeping teachers informed of developments regarding the vaccination efforts.

In a voicemail message left for a reporter on Monday, LAUSD Supt. Pulver said the district has been working with county agencies to get teachers immunized.

“We have been advocating for all of our employees to be able to have access to the vaccine,” Pulver said. He said LAUSD would be sending the names of district employees to the county as health officials requested so teachers can be notified of vaccination appointments.

“Sign me up,” was Schmitz’s response to news that all Orange County educators would be eligible for vaccination. She expressed optimism her colleagues feel the same way.

“I hope that teachers get [the vaccine]. I just hope people go and get it.”