Every K-12 teacher and school employee in Salt Lake County has been offered the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. And more than two-thirds opted to get it.
The significant turnout — at roughly 70% — comes after school staffers were moved up on the state’s priority list.
They were able to start getting their initial shots about four weeks ago, and districts are wrapping up that first round. Schools had worked through all age groups, beginning with those older than 65 and getting to the remaining 18-year-olds on Friday or Saturday.
“This last week was really the end of us hitting school staff really hard to sign up and doing the mass vaccine clinics,” said Nicholas Rupp, the spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department.
There will be some stragglers, he said, who will come in later to get their first doses. But the county expects to finish administering the second dose to teachers in early March.
Rupp said he expected the high demand here, where most K-12 schools have remained open. The participation, though, has been even higher than originally estimated.
With the early responses to surveys sent out by the five public school districts, anywhere from 30% to 60% of staff had said they were interested in the vaccine.
At the time, one worried Utah teacher tweeted: “Getting vaccinated helps EVERYONE! It’s SCIENCE!”
By the end of the clinics, roughly 21,000 school personnel ended up getting immunized, Rupp said.
The number comes from the amount of doses the county health department handed over to Community Nursing Services, the nonprofit that is working to vaccinate teachers in Salt Lake County.
Broken out across the five public schools districts in the county, that interest varied a bit.
Murray School District, which is the smallest with about 1,000 staff, had the highest participation in the immunizations at 76%. Salt Lake City School District followed closely behind at 71%.
Canyons, which generally covers a more conservative area at the south end of the county, had the lowest turnout with about 3,900 employees out of 6,000 eligible getting the vaccine. That’s 65%.
Jordan, at 69%, and Granite, at 68%, have the most employees. And they fell close to the average.
For all five districts combined — accounting for roughly 26,600 of the K-12 staff in the county – 18,160 were immunized in the school clinics, according to estimates collected and analyzed by The Salt Lake Tribune.
About 2,800 shots are estimated to have gone to teachers and staff at charter, parochial and private schools.
It’s hard to know the exact distribution because the county health department does not keep district- or school-level data on the vaccines. And Community Nursing Services could not be reached for comment.
The Utah Department of Health additionally does not separate out how many school staff are getting immunized, so there’s no way to know statewide how many of the total 70,000 K-12 employees have gotten the shot.
“We don’t really have any way of tracking that,” acknowledged Tom Hudachko, the spokesman for the state, in an email. “We do not receive data on a person’s occupation when they are vaccinated.”
Without the state monitoring the data, The Tribune called each district and got approximations of how many staff have been vaccinated. The Tribune also called the two largest districts outside of the county. Davis School District said it is not keeping numbers.
Alpine School District in Utah County — the largest in the state — reported that 6,523 employees got the shot. That’s 77% of its 8,500 staff, just slightly higher than Murray.
“It just gives them so much hope for the future,” said David Stephenson, the spokesman at Alpine.
Challenges in Salt Lake City
In Salt Lake City School District, too, “there’s just been so much demand for the vaccine with our staff,” said spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin.
After Thursday, the district had given shots to 2,500 out of 3,500 employees. And, on the same day, it started administering second doses, too, to 800 of those individuals.
Previously, the district had been the only one in Utah to hold classes entirely online, fearing outbreaks. But it faced intense pushback from the state for doing so. Administrators and school board members eventually came to an agreement to reopen in January, under a staggered schedule, to align with when school staff would get immunized.
And it has defended that decision, noting that teachers have elected to get the vaccines at higher rates than most other districts.
Of the 1,000 that didn’t get it through the district, Chatwin noted, too, some of them qualified to get it sooner under the state’s earlier priority groups, such as individuals over the age of 70.
Some also are early in a pregnancy and couldn’t get the vaccine immediately, so they deferred; they’ll still be given priority, as school staff, by the county health department when they are able to get the shot.
And, Chatwin added, it’s not a requirement to get it. But the district wanted to make sure teachers had the option.
Since most schools reopened in August, there have been 31,188 cases tied to K-12 in Utah. Teachers have accounted for 3,298 of those. That’s 8% of the 40,000 licensed educators in the state getting infected. Meanwhile, the rate for students is 3.7%.
With the doses it administered Friday, Jordan School District bumped up from having 63% of its staff inoculated to about 69% receiving their first shot.
Spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said some employees were so happy they’ve been crying when they arrived at the clinic. “They get really emotional,” she added. “They’re so grateful.”
Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said most of the staff there saw it “as an extra security blanket.” Some had been worried about teaching during the day and carrying the virus back home to their family at night.
For privacy reasons, though, schools won’t be telling students and families which staff, in particular, decided to get a shot. 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. But to do so would violate privacy requirements.
Young kids and students likely won’t be able to get a vaccination until the end of the year.