By Lukas Carbone
As COVID-19 vaccination rollout ramps up and increasing political pressure to reopen schools mounts from the State – most notably in the form of Senate Bill 86, which encourages schools, especially elementary schools, to reopen – teacher access to vaccines has become an increasingly pressing issue. Governor Newsom has mandated that at least 10% of vaccines that are received are to be allocated towards teachers and other school staff, and President Biden has pushed for states to give all teachers at least one shot of the vaccine before the end of March.
In accordance with this vaccination rollout, the staff of the Acalanes Union High School District – which reopened on March 16 – have begun receiving their first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Lori Tewksbury, the President of the Acalanes Education Association, the union representing AUHSD teachers, believes that, as of March 8, “Every teacher who wants to be vaccinated has been able to get their first shot at this time, [and] the bulk of teachers’ second shots is happening in the next two weeks.” According to Tewksbury, the AEA “has always said that we want kids back at school when it’s safe, [and] negotiated back in December that we would transition to in-person/hybrid learning when we were in the red tier for health data.” At that time, the AEA “didn’t think vaccines would be available at all this school year – maybe summer if we were lucky,” and Tewksbury described it as “a huge relief that we are finally getting vaccinated.” Tewksbury also said, “Most of us will not be fully vaccinated until spring break [because] it takes 2 weeks after the second shot to be fully vaccinated…why [can’t] we just wait 2 more weeks until we are all basically fully vaccinated?”
Lisa Amaro and Kerry Ginsberg are two Las Lomas teachers who, at the time of writing, received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and are slated to receive their second doses on March 14 and in mid-to-late March, respectively, with both teachers receiving vaccines at the Oakland Coliseum. Both these teachers, when interviewed in the fall, expressed concerns about how reopening could affect the health of either themselves or their loved ones, with Ginsberg noting that “without sharing anyone’s personal health info, I’ll say that I share custody of my son, and my partner shares custody of his kids also. In this bubble of parents, step-parents, and kids, there are 8 adults and 6 kids, and at least one of those people is at high risk,” and Amaro noting that both she and all three of her children have asthma, placing her and her children at additional risk.
For these teachers, being vaccinated makes them feel much safer and more comfortable returning to school, with Ginsberg saying that “there are still a lot of complex factors involved in opening schools for in-person learning, but vaccinating educators is an important step [and] for me personally, being vaccinated makes me feel more comfortable coming on campus.” Amaro said that she “[feels] better [and a lot safer] having completed the two vaccines prior to seeing my students in person [and feels] all students really need the social aspect of school, [because] it has been a really long year for most students.”
However, while both Amaro and Ginsberg have been able to receive COVID-19 vaccines, they had different experiences in securing them. Amaro said her experience in scheduling an appointment was “Fine, I felt lucky to get an appointment with little struggle. The only problem was I had a two-hour line to wait through even with an appointment, [but it was] definitely worth the wait.” Ginsberg, however, was somewhat less lucky, describing the process of “getting a vaccine appointment [as] a bit of a mad scramble” and “kind of like trying to buy concert tickets,” but said that “once at the Coliseum, I was very impressed by the ease and efficiency of the system they had set up.”
Tewksbury said that Ginsberg was not alone in having difficulty in securing a vaccine. She also described “trying to get vaccine appointments” as “like concert tickets: refresh the computer throughout the day, when appointments became available on [Myturn.gov] try in vain to get one and let others know before they vanished after 5 minutes.” “Educators in other counties in the state,” she said, “started getting vaccinated through their County Office of Health,” but she said that in contrast, “the Contra Costa County Health Department was completely inept at vaccine distribution,” causing teachers to turn to MyTurn.gov to receive vaccine appointments. She said that “now the County has started giving school districts single-use vaccine appointment access codes, but most of us have already had our first shots. Kaiser, also, has been a terrible disappointment in getting vaccines to Kaiser members – which is the majority of teachers. It’s been a horrible mess getting appointments.”
According to her, however, “the actual vaccine site that most of us have gone to – the Oakland Coliseum – has been absolutely incredible – organized, efficient, lots of happy people there helping us.” She described it as “an uplifting experience getting vaccinated.”