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12 things you need to know about Utah teachers and school staff getting the COVID-19 vaccine

K-12 employees can start getting vaccinated in January. These are some common questions and answers about the process.

(Courtesy University of Utah Health) University of Utah Health unboxes their COVID-19 vaccines, prep the doses, and giving vaccinations to front-line health care workers on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

After certain designated health care workers and long-term care center residents, teachers are next in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The announcement by Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this month was met with cheers and sighs of relief from many in the education community. Teachers have come into the classroom each day, continuing to instruct during the pandemic despite worrying about the virus spreading. And more than 2,300 have been infected this fall with schools open (a rate much higher than among students).

Their shots are expected to start in January. “The excitement around here was pretty high,” added Jeff Haney, spokesperson for Canyons School District. “The interest is just so great among our employees.”

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about how the vaccine will be administered to K-12 staff in the coming weeks.

Which employees at a school can be immunized?

All staff at a school, including part-time personnel, can get COVID-19 vaccine. It is not limited only to the 27,000 teachers in the state.

“It includes administrators, bus drivers, custodians, lunch staff, paraprofessionals and so on,” Haney noted. Playground aides are also included, as are most substitutes who regularly work in schools.

The state has budgeted enough vaccine for any K-12 employee that would like one. Overall, there are roughly 70,000 school staffers in the state who qualify, according to the Utah Board of Education.

To verify employment, staff will be asked to bring a valid ID. The only individuals not included would be volunteers who are not paid by a school for their work.

What is the timeline for my district?

Utah has already started vaccinating health care workers who are in contact with COVID-19 patients, expects to start vaccinating staff and residents at long-term care facilities this week, and will next give doses to health care professionals who work outside hospitals.

Then, county health departments — not the state — largely will administer vaccinations for school staff. So dates for getting immunized vary based on location.

Most K-12 employees can expect to be able to get a first dose of vaccine sometime around the middle of January, though, said Tom Hudachko, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health. The second dose will come in early February.

Salt Lake City School District appears to be starting the soonest, with its first vaccinations set for Jan. 8 and 9. Those came as part of an agreement with state leaders for the district to reopen in person; previously, it had been the only one to remain with all classes online.

“Fingers crossed everything works out,” said spokesperson Yándary Chatwin.

Elsewhere in Salt Lake County, Granite School District will be holding a vaccine clinic on Jan. 15, with a makeup day on Jan. 23. Canyons School District is set for Jan. 15 and may also include Jan. 16, if needed. And Murray School District has Jan. 14 and 15 penciled in.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jennifer Frederick, a teacher at Mount Jordan Middle School in Sandy, conducting a discussion in her Utah studies class on Wednesday, December 15, 2020.

Jordan School District it is still setting up a time and will have more information for employees after their winter break, said spokesperson Sandy Riesgraf.

Hudachko said the dates are tentative for now, as the state calculates how many doses of the vaccine it will have. But each district is able to start scheduling. And most have sent information to their employees about when the administration is expected to happen.

Will the state have enough of the vaccine to give to school workers?

The promised vaccine supply varies a bit week to week, Hudachko said. But based on current estimates, the state is comfortable with the plan moving forward.

The state has budgeted enough vaccines for school employees — including the necessary second dose that comes about three weeks after the first.

Charla Haley, also a spokesperson for the state health department, said officials are being careful and calculated with the doses. If they don’t have enough to administer a second dose, then giving someone just the first one would be “a big waste.”

“There’s a lot of logistics involved in all of this,” she said. The first dose is about 70% effective. A week after the second dose is administered, it jumps to 90-95%.

Currently, school districts are surveying their employees to see who wants the shots. That’s helped the state budget supplies. Granite School District, for example, has about 9,000 total employees, said spokesperson Ben Horsley. So far, 3,200 have signed up.

Murray is planning for about half of its 1,000 staffers to get immunized. Canyons, though, has seen 3,900 sign up — that’s about 85% of its employees.

Does a school employee have to get vaccinated?

No. Public school employees will not be required to get the vaccine if they don’t want it. “And we certainly don’t anticipate that everyone is going to,” said Doug Perry, spokesperson for Murray School District.

It’s possible, though, that private schools could mandate it.

Does a parent or student get to know if their teacher has been vaccinated?

No. Hudachko said a teacher “could share that info if they want.” But the state will not be providing it because of privacy requirements.

Some parents have said they’d like to know if their kids’ teachers are vaccinated so they can decide whether or not to send a child back to school in person.

Will the school vaccines take away doses from front-line health care workers?

Definitely not. The state anticipates that the first priority for vaccines — those in hospitals working directly with COVID-19 patients — will be immunized by the time doses are being given to teachers.

As of Monday, Utah hospitals had reported 6,519 doses had been given to those health care employees.

(Photo courtesy of University of Utah Health) Christy Mulder, a medical intensive care unit nurse at University of Utah Health, receives the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. She is believed to be the first person in Utah to receive the vaccine.

Herbert has said teachers have acted as essential workers throughout the pandemic, teaching face-to-face after he encouraged schools to reopen. Getting them the vaccine, he added, will also help students to be able to continue attending school in person.

“We want to make sure that our students are going to school to learn,” Herbert said. “This will help minimize families’ disruption at home.”

The plan has the support of the Utah Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state.

After Phase 1, which concludes with school employees and protective services, such as police, the vaccine will go next to people at higher risk of getting sicker from COVID-19 and other essential workers. That Phase 2 will happen from February through May. The general public is expected to get the vaccine by June or July.

Will the vaccines be administered at school?

This again depends on the district. Many are planning to bring in nurses to administer the vaccine at schools or district buildings so staff can easily get immunized. At Granite School District, for example, there will be 10 locations — including all eight of its high schools, as well as two other spots.

The tentative day set to get the vaccine there is a Friday, the day the district uses for distance learning. Horsley said teachers and staff will have flexibility then to go get the vaccine without having to use their personal time. The shot takes about two minutes to get, Horsley added.

In Murray School District, the shots will be administered at Hillcrest Junior High. And in Canyons, it will be at Mount Jordan Middle School. Both will have staff come at designated times based on alphabetical order by last name.

All districts in Salt Lake County will be contracting with Community Nursing Services, which will provide staff to administer the vaccines, said Nicholas Rupp, spokesperson for the county health department. The nonprofit has conducted student vaccine clinics for years.

Each district is expected to communicate with its staff about logistics. Other districts, for instance, are vaccinating all of their EMS staff and paramedics first and then they will administer the vaccines to teachers, Haley said.

In more rural areas of the state, distance makes things harder than along the Wasatch Front. Haley said some teachers there will have to drive 100 miles to get a vaccine.

“There’s so many moving pieces,” she acknowledged. “It’s kind of all over the board.”

What about employees who can’t make it during their district’s time?

Rupp said the county health department will have a clinic after the schools have administered their first vaccines for anyone who couldn’t make it. They just need to bring a staff ID. “We will be that safety net,” he noted.

What about teachers who are instructing only online?

They can also sign up for a vaccine. The state has not put any limitations on school staff based on how classes are taught.

Are private schools included in this? What about charters?

Yes. Administrators at private and charter schools will work with the local health department to schedule times for the staff vaccinations. Some private schools are teaming up with nearby districts to do them on the same day and location to share resources. That’s happening with Murray School District and Mount Vernon Academy.

Are the vaccines free?

Yes. All school staff can get immunized with no out-of-pocket cost. They are asked to bring an insurance card if they have one, but they will not be charged, Horsley added.

“Teachers are essential in the midst of this pandemic,” he noted. “We want to do everything we can to help them get a vaccine, if they want one.”

What about students?

It will still be a long time — possibly another year — before students younger than 18 can get vaccinated. That’s largely because the first trials for the new vaccines have not yet been completed with kids.

Part of that is by design because the older individuals are, the more seriously ill they can get from the coronavirus. Unlike their teachers, children rarely develop severe complications.

Pfizer is, though, getting underway now with clinical trials of its vaccine on those ages 12 to 17, which have different immune responses than adults. Moderna will likely begin the same later this month.

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