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California will earmark 10% of weekly COVID-19 vaccine supply for teachers

Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, talks to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke Tuesday during a news conference at a joint state and federal COVID-19 vaccination site.
(Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that state officials will set aside 10% of California’s weekly allotment of COVID-19 vaccine doses for educators starting next month, in an effort to jump-start the process of reopening more public school campuses as pandemic conditions improve in communities across the state.

The announcement, made during a visit to an Oakland vaccination clinic, marked a swift turn of events after school reopening negotiations between Newsom and state lawmakers stalled, in part over the governor’s reluctance to promise vaccinations to teachers and other school employees. Though a number of issues over how to resume in-person instruction remain unresolved, none has been more contentious than how to prioritize educators within the state’s queue for immunizations.

“It must be done much sooner than the current path that we’re on,” Newsom said Friday about reopening schools. “We believe this will help advance that cause.”

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The governor said the program will begin March 1. Based on current allocations from the federal government, the state will reserve about 75,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for school employees. Newsom did not say whether teachers and other staff members should expect to receive full treatment — the two injections required by current vaccines — before returning to campuses or should expect to be vaccinated soon after schools open.

Information sent to county public health departments Friday said Blue Shield of California, in its new role as the state’s COVID-19 vaccine administrator, will prioritize appointments each week for educators — a group that includes teachers, support staff, child-care providers and a broad array of affiliated jobs. Higher-education employees will also be considered eligible for priority vaccinations, according to the state guidelines.

“Over a four-week period, that’s about 300,000 vaccinations prioritized to our workforce in order to get our schools reopened and support our child-care workers,” Newsom said.

But to what extent the governor’s effort will help bring students back to school this spring is unclear.

The policy is likely to focus first on vaccine access for employees at public and private schools that are already open. Using state data and through its own survey of schools, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California reported Thursday that more than half of school districts in the state are open for some level of in-person instruction.

The governor’s surprise announcement left unclear the fate of legislation introduced Thursday by Democratic lawmakers. Their proposal sought to give school employees access to vaccines but stopped short of the specific allocation outlined by Newsom. The lawmakers’ $6.6-billion plan focuses on elementary schools and offers state funds for health and safety needs at those locations, as well as money to cover programs later in the school year to address learning losses suffered by millions of California schoolchildren.

But the legislative plan does not have the governor’s endorsement. When asked if he would veto the legislation, Newsom said Friday that he had “made it crystal clear” that he can’t support it.

Advisors to the governor said they believe the proposal would upend existing rules regarding coronavirus testing on school campuses and would wrongly subject every detail in school safety plans to collective bargaining with school employee unions. The administration believes the union members should be given the right to accept or reject the safety plan as a whole.

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“My fear about what was put out is actually it’s going to slow down our ability to reopen schools safely,” Newsom said Friday. “That’s my concern.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) rejected those concerns but applauded the governor’s vaccination directive.

“I’m supportive of any plan that gets vaccines to teachers who need them and lets schools open up quickly and safely,” Rendon said in a written statement.

A representative of the California Teachers Assn. described the 10% allotment as “an important step to ensuring teachers and school staff have access to the vaccine before opening schools and worksites for in-person instruction.”

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“Testing, low community transmission rates and vaccines are necessary to safely reopen schools for in-person teaching and learning, along with the multilayered safety measures required by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and [California Department of Public Health],” said association spokeswoman Claudia Briggs.

Newsom’s announcement stood in contrast to several weeks’ worth of comments urging educators not to make vaccinations a precondition to reopening elementary schools, a position the governor took in late December that struggled to win acceptance in the Legislature. Last month, Newsom told a group of school administrators that a mandate for vaccines was tantamount to saying that in-person learning wouldn’t happen during the current academic year.

California’s supply of vaccines has appeared to gradually rise in recent weeks. In a Twitter post Friday, Newsom said more than 1.3 million doses would be available next week, rising to 1.4 million in the final week of February and more than 1.5 million by early March — the week the education vaccine program would begin.

“The reason we can do [educator vaccine priority] more formally, even though we’ve allowed for it over the course of the last number of weeks, is the window of visibility into the future with more vaccinations that are now coming from the Biden administration,” Newsom said.


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