School and daycare staff are among 1.65 million Louisianans eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Thursday afternoon.
“As we signaled a few weeks ago, we intended for teachers and other school workers to be in the next order of priority,” Edwards said. “Being able to get to them is really important for our state. As we all know, they have been on the frontlines of this pandemic and they play a critical role in our continued recovery and obviously in the education of our children.”
Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley praised Edward’s decision to include the state’s 167,000 school and childcare workers in its next stage of vaccine distribution.
“It will not only recognize their status as essential workers, but will also help us keep our schools and centers open,” Brumley said.
Based on anecdotal evidence and conversations with school system leaders, Brumley said he expects at least half of school and childcare employees to get vaccinated.
“We know that everyone begins their period of eligibility on Monday, that doesn’t mean that we have enough vaccines across the state to vaccinate everyone who is eligible,” Brumley said. “As more supply becomes available, we will be ready to give our employees access to that.”
For months, school leaders, teachers unions and state lawmakers have been calling on Edwards to allow teachers and support staff to qualify for vaccination.
Instead, he directed the state’s limited supply doses to health care workers, the elderly and those most likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.
But now that the Biden Administration has increased Louisiana's weekly allocation of doses and given public health officials a clearer picture of how many they can expect in the future, Edwards said it was time to include teachers in the state’s vaccination program.
The state’s next stage of distribution also includes individuals who are pregnant and people between the ages of 55 and 64 who have certain CDC-identified health conditions that put them at greater risk from the coronavirus, including cancer, Type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obesity.
When this expansion takes effect on Monday, more than a third of the state’s population will be eligible for vaccination.
“Well we’re going to have more doses than we’ve ever had before, and from that perspective it is the exact right time to add in individuals to the next priority group,” Edwards said.
Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer and coordinator of Louisiana's coronavirus response, said the state will receive an allocation of 45,630 doses from Pfizer and 45,000 from Moderna in the coming week. The federal government will also ship an estimated 28,000 doses to Walmart and CVS through the federal retail pharmacy program for COVID-19 vaccination.
The state’s vaccine providers have the challenge of processing and administering the new doses while rescheduling vaccination appointments that were canceled because of last week’s winter weather. Many of the weather-delayed vaccine shipments will not arrive in Louisiana until this weekend.
Kanter said he was confident that vaccine providers could work through the backlog in “a week or two.”
“There is no question that even today, we have much more capacity to deliver vaccine in Louisiana than we have supply,” Kanter said. “I think that our vaccine providers are going to do a good job next week with the added volume and essentially make up for the lost time.”
Kanter urged anyone who missed their appointment to receive their second dose because of the weather to call their vaccine provider to reschedule.
“It is still beneficial to take that second dose even if it is days or a week or two later than it should have been,” Kanter said.
Louisiana’s Department of Education does not intend to take a position on whether school and childcare employees should get the vaccine, Brumley said. Instead, its focus will be on making sure those who would like to be vaccinated have timely access.
Brumley said the department has spent the last few months working through the logistics of vaccine distribution and instructed school systems and childcare centers to survey staff and set up partnerships with local clinics, hospitals and pharmacies.
In New Orleans, the public school system began surveying teachers and support staff in January and collected registration information from those wishing to receive the vaccine. Through a partnership with the Louisiana Department of Health and LCMC Children’s Hospital, the district will help employees schedule their first and second doses.
“Since vaccinations began, we have waited patiently for this exciting news,” Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a press release. “We want our teachers and on-site school support staff safe and healthy, and so we will now do our part to help them gain access to these important shots as supplies and time allow.”
In a press release, the district said the vaccination process will “be limited by local health care partners’ vaccine supply and capacity” and encouraged employees to contact their health care provider about other possible vaccine appointments to help expedite the process.
Nearly 70 percent of Louisiana’s K-12 students are currently receiving full-time face-to-face instruction. Brumley said he hopes ongoing vaccination efforts will help get that number closer to 100 percent.
“Our desire is for that number to be higher, but at that same time if you look … across the country ... our number looks pretty good,” Brumley said.
There is no official accounting of how many students are learning in-person at any given time, but the organization Burbio estimates that about 40 percent of K-12 students were attending school in-person full-time as of Feb. 15. Nearly 34 percent of students were attending virtual-only school and about 26 percent were attending school under a hybrid model, learning both online and in-person.
In New Orleans, about 60 percent of public school students were learning in-person at the end of 2020, before a spike in cases pushed most classrooms to pivot to online only instruction. Younger students returned to the classroom in early February. High school students can resume in-person instruction part-time beginning next week.