Vaccination frustration: Washtenaw County has lowest percentage of vaccinated teachers in state
ANN ARBOR, MI – As Washtenaw County School workers wait their turn among 80,000 residents eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, limited access to supply has left him with the lowest percentage of the state’s vaccinated educators, according to a Michigan Education Association survey.
While the online survey of MEA members found that 63.1% of Michigan school workers who responded are either vaccinated or in the process of being vaccinated against the virus, that figure is only 25.6% in Washtenaw County, with 1,291 members responding.
“It is of great concern that teachers in Washtenaw County have had such limited access to the vaccine,” said Fred Klein, president of the Ann Arbor Educators Association. “… I know some teachers have had to go elsewhere – like Jackson and Grand Rapids – to get vaccinated.”
During weeks, vaccine supply was a problem for the Washtenaw County Health Department, which is in the process of moving from immunization from its Priority Group 1A to Group 1B which includes teachers and school staff.
About 600 Washtenaw County educators received their first doses of the vaccine during Phase 1A, with the group primarily comprised of special education staff who are in self-contained classrooms, the school district acting superintendent said. Washtenaw intermediary, Naomi Norman.
Some school staff aged 65 and over started getting vaccinated last week as the health service moves into phase 1B, adding another 600 people.
Norman said about 60% of all Group 1B are over 65, with the rest being essential workers, including school staff. The health ministry is required to allocate 75% of its vaccines to people 65 and over, with the remaining 25% going to essential workers, including educators.
“Washtenaw County has more hospital staff per resident than most counties in Michigan, so unsurprisingly we had to focus on vaccinating these hospital staff,” Norman said. “This group took a little longer here than in other countries.”
Norman said she expects doses that were going to hospitals to be reallocated to focus more on Group 1B, which should allow more people to get vaccinated more quickly in the community, including the school staff.
School staff aged 50 and over are next waiting for vaccination, representing 2,800 people across the county, said Norman, who hopes to see this group start receiving invitations to make appointments this week or so. next week.
This group could take “a few weeks” to vaccinate these employees, Norman said, which could lead to school staff aged 50 and under receiving their first doses of the vaccine in early or mid-March, depending on allowances. futures that the county will receive. .
Norman noted that all school districts, charter academies and private schools in the county are treated equally in the process, with no priority given to in-person or distance learning.
“Instead, the Department of Health only created a priority based on age because the risk of serious health problems or death is higher with age, and focusing on age is the way our health department approaches equity, ”Norman said.
Dexter Community Schools Superintendent Chris Timmis said the district continues to hear anecdotally that other counties are vaccinating Group 1B much faster than in Washtenaw County, leading some educators who live in the outside the county to get vaccinated where they live.
Timmis said about half of district staff received their first or both doses of the vaccine, with only 2% receiving both doses.
“In our county, the high number of medical staff and the limited doses of vaccine provided to the health service compared to the surrounding areas have only exacerbated the tensions,” said Timmis. “I know WCHD is ready whenever it receives enough vaccine doses to provide a quick turnaround time for our staff. They just need the doses.
Saline Region Schools Superintendent Steve Laatsch said about 33% of staff who currently work directly with students have received their first dose of the vaccine.
An increasing number of these vaccines have been received outside the health department, Laatsch noted, with about 90 of its 150 employees receiving the vaccine through other means – whether outside the county or state or through pharmacies.
“We ask staff to self-report when they find other appointments in other counties,” Laatsch said. “They’re creative in trying to get dates because in other counties they just focus on if you’re an educator. If you are in this group, they allow the vaccination process to take place. “
Norman noted that neighboring counties like Jackson County manage their immunization lists differently. In Jackson County, school staff were prioritized immediately when the county began phase 1B. The MEA survey showed that 71.5% of educators in Jackson County had received or scheduled their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Each county makes local decisions based on its health service and the local context; However, it’s also important to note that every county faces a vaccine shortage, ”Norman said.
Washtenaw County Health Department spokeswoman Susan Ringler-Cerniglia said it was difficult to quantify the number of county healthcare workers eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Priority Group 1A, because immunization tracking systems are not configured to track occupancy.
County Group 1A now represents a “much smaller portion” of the 2,000 to 3,000 available doses the health department receives each week, she said, but vaccine supply remains an issue.
“I think we can all recognize with the large regional health systems like Michigan Medicine and St. Joe’s that there are a lot of health professionals employed, whether they live here or work here,” Ringler-Cerniglia said. . “We have no indication of an increase (in vaccine supply). It’s pretty much the same and the information we got this week is that we can expect it to stay pretty much the same (number of doses) for the next few weeks.
In the meantime, local school districts continue to weigh in on the amount of face-to-face learning they can offer. Ann Arbor Public Schools have was aiming for a return date in early March in blended learning format, although a specific date has not yet been set.
The transition to school learning calendars is subject to adjustments, depending on significant progress in the school staff vaccination process, ongoing monitoring of the number of COVID-19 infections in the district and in the community and monitoring any factors that would prevent a safe and healthy reopening of schools, Superintendent Jeanice Swift said.
About 75% of AAEA members said they were not confident in the district’s ability to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID in a hybrid environment, Klein noted. In a recent survey, over 83% of AAEA members felt that the district should remain in distance learning until they were able to get vaccinated.
“The importance of educators and school teams receiving the vaccine cannot be overstated in ensuring the effective functioning of the district in the service of our students and families,” said Swift. “As is the case in all workplaces, in our community and across the country, vaccines are proving to be a game changer as you move forward.”