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October 28, 2021

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Teachers Call for Prioritizing In-Person Educators Over Others on Vaccine Waitlist – NBC 7 San Diego

Some teachers are calling on the county to change the way it’s vaccinating education workers. They say the county’s metering system doesn’t make sense and puts teachers in classrooms at risk.

East Village High School is still practicing remote learning, but workers there can now get a vaccine.

Meanwhile, teachers at other schools who have been inside the classroom and interacting with students for weeks can’t even make an appointment.

“The system is not right,” said Matthew Schneck, a social studies teacher who got his first dose the first day he was able – last Saturday.

But not all his peers shared his luck.

In fact, Schneck noticed many teachers who were teaching remotely like him could get a vaccine. While some of his colleagues say, in Escondido or in East County who are already teaching in person, were not eligible for the vaccine. Some were even turned away if they tried.

“There are people right now, teaching today, in person, who still can’t get their vaccine. And that to me seems wrong,” Schneck said.

San Diego County set aside 20% of its vaccine supply for educators by using a third-party appointment system called VEBA. This separate apparatus also allowed county education officials to prioritize some workers over others, which is exactly what they did.

The County and Office of Education used the state’s Healthy Place Index, which grades ZIP codes into four groups – based on things like education level, income level, and percentage of residents with health insurance.

Educators working in schools in the unhealthiest quartile are first in line for a vaccine. Everyone else must wait.

“It’s a difficult question,” said San Diego County Office of Education COVID Emergency Operations Coordinator Bob Mueller. “Do you prioritize people working in-person first? Or do you look past the classroom and into the community?”

Mueller said without an equity-based metering system, workers with the fastest internet service and most time to search for available appointments would get shots first. He also worries no metering system would result in a countywide return to in-classroom learning with no school able to say its entire staff was able to get a vaccine.

“The goal has been to focus on the children,” Mueller said. “What can we do to remove barriers to school opening for children in those hardest hit communities.”

He says of the 19,000 education workers currently eligible to get a vaccine, just 7,000 work at schools with in-person learning. Meanwhile, more than 29,000 more educators work at schools with students inside classrooms, but are not yet eligible to get a vaccine.

“I think it was the best attempt at achieving an equitable solution that was available with the time available to create it,” Mueller said. “It’s not a perfect solution.”

But it’s a solution teachers like Schneck say the county needs to revisit.

“I’m concerned there will be teachers who won’t be able to get a vaccine when it comes time to open,” Schneck said.

This metering system only applies to K-12 education workers. So if you work in higher education you can just make an appointment through the MyTurn website like everyone else. Whether you work on campus or from home is irrelevant.

There are around 80,000 K-12 education workers in San Diego County, meaning more than 60,000 educators are stuck waiting for their vaccine.