Although dates and details of school employee vaccination remain up in the air, local health departments and school districts are preparing for the next step in the vaccine’s rollout.
Then-Gov. Gary Herbert announced Dec. 12 that employees at K-12 schools would be among the first to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, estimating that they would begin being inoculated in late December or early January. That start date has since been moved multiple times.
The state Health Department’s most recent guess at when vaccines will be available for school employees is late January to early February.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday that a small number of vaccine doses could be administered to educators in Salt Lake County next week, per the Salt Lake County Health Department. A spokesperson for the state Health Department would not confirm the report Wednesday evening.
“We are evaluating timelines for availability of vaccine,” read an emailed statement from the department. “When feasible we will always look for ways to accelerate the process, but we don’t have anything formal to announce as of now.”
As the vaccination timeline continually changes, the Davis School District will update employees through a weekly email sent on Sunday nights, Assistant Superintendent John Zurbuchen said at a school board meeting Tuesday. The first email was sent last Sunday.
The Ogden and Weber school districts began preparing for the vaccine to come available by sending out surveys Tuesday gauging employees’ interest in being vaccinated.
“For those desiring the vaccination, you will be notified of the date, time and location as soon as we have that information. We anticipate the process will begin at the end of January and run through April,” read the email from the Weber School District.
The survey, according to Weber School District spokesperson Lane Findlay, will help the Weber-Morgan Health Department determine how many doses of the vaccine it will need to get through this round of inoculations.
“We want to make sure we have an accurate picture of our numbers, because we’re a large district — we have over 5,000 employees,” Findlay said.
For the Ogden School District, the survey may serve an additional purpose, said district spokesperson Jer Bates.
So far, the state has not released guidelines as to which school employees should receive the vaccination first, whether that be employees at schools with high rates of infection or those who are at highest risk if they contract the virus. In case that direction never comes, the Ogden School District is using its survey to allow educators to prioritize themselves.
Answer options on the survey include “yes I’m high risk, I’d like to get it as quickly as possible; I’m not high risk, I’d like others to get it before me, but I’d still like it; and no I’m not interested at this time,” said Bates.
He continued, “That helps us identify a tier one list and we’ll work our way back from that there.”
When the vaccine does become available to educators, its administration will look different in the Davis School District, which falls under the Davis County Health Department, compared to the Ogden and Weber school districts, which are working with the Weber-Morgan Health Department.
Since expanding vaccinations to include health care workers and first responders outside of hospitals, the Davis County Health Department has been giving vaccinations from a drive-thru clinic at Legacy Events Center in Farmington. That system will continue when the vaccine becomes available to K-12 employees, said Davis County Health Department spokesperson Trevor Warner.
When their turn comes, each school employee will be sent a link where they can make an appointment online.
“I assume we’ll be having clinics every day for the next little bit,” Warner said, noting that school employees would be the largest group yet to be vaccinated in Davis County. “Get as many people vaccinated as we can.”
The Weber-Morgan Health Department is working on finalizing an agreement with a private contractor, Community Nursing Services, to oversee the vaccination of school employees in Weber and Morgan counties, according to department spokesperson Lori Buttars.
CNS, based in Utah, provides a wide range of health care services, among them immunizations at a walk-in clinic and flu shots through a mobile clinic. If the contract is approved, it would likely administer vaccines at locations throughout Weber and Morgan counties.
Officials have indicated that vaccination will not be a condition of employment for faculty and staff of any local districts. They have, however, encouraged employees to get vaccinated when the time comes.
“While the district will not require any staff member to be vaccinated, it is highly encouraged. Ultimately, this vaccine is going to be the key to getting us through this pandemic,” read the Weber School District’s email.
So far this academic year, 2,658 teachers in Utah have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to the state’s dashboard. Before the vaccine reaches every teacher in the state, that number will certainly grow.
Among the state’s 1,330 COVID-19 deaths, as of Wednesday, is an Ogden School District teacher who died in June.
“Obviously there’s excitement that the vaccine has been approved and has begun to be administered, but we also want people to be realistic that vaccine is in high demand and low availability,” Bates said. “It remains absolutely vital that people continue to take any precautions they can to continue to be safe.”