Vaccinating school personnel an issue as kids head back to classrooms

When the first students begin to arrive through the doors of Clemens Primary and Philomath Elementary on Tuesday, many of the teachers and employees on site will not have received their first dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Gov. Kate Brown earlier this month prioritized the state’s K-12, preschool and daycare workers with their eligibility to receive the vaccine beginning next week. The state had been counting on an additional shipment of up to 225,000 more vaccine doses from the federal stockpile to be earmarked for educators, but that did not materialize.

Still, Brown has expressed concern about getting children back to school and remained committed to getting educators immunized.

“As I’ve said for months, one of my main priorities is getting our kids back to in-person instruction and to protect our educational staff to help achieve this goal,” Brown said in a Jan. 15 news conference. “Starting the week of Jan. 25, we will begin vaccinations of our educators and school staff. In some counties, this may even start sooner.”

That appears to be the case in Lincoln County and Marion County. Philomath School Superintendent Susan Halliday said Wednesday that there are some unanswered questions about when and where local educators and school staff will be able to get the shot.

Halliday announced Wednesday that students in kindergarten through the third grade will return to classrooms in a hybrid learning model beginning Jan. 26.

Halliday did point out that some individuals who are providing personal care of medically fragile children or students identified with an intellectual or a developmental disability are high on the vaccination list.

“We have been able to get them scheduled and in under (phase) 1a,” she said. “So we’ve been able to pull in some people but it’s had its limits.”

Children younger than age 16 are not able to be vaccinated because of a lack of safety information for that age group.

Samaritan Health Services plans to stage vaccination clinics for people in the 1a category on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Oregon State University’s Reser Stadium.

“At this point, it sounds like it’s people in the 1a category and not educators,” Halliday said about those clinics. “What we’re trying to do is discern if that will be able to include educators or not. So there are still some unanswered questions on exactly when.”

When the vaccine becomes more widely available, Halliday said sites in Philomath are preparing to step forward.

“We do know that Philomath Pharmacy is in a position to be ready to administer vaccines if they get vaccines — that’s the other piece of the puzzle,” Halliday said. “And we have volunteered a school facility site whenever that could happen for people to be able to come and get vaccinated.”

The Oregon Health Authority defines the 1a category as health-care personnel and long-term care facility residents.

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