Health Equity Prioritized for teacher vaccinations

Posted at 5:17 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 20:24:44-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - There are roughly 80,000 teachers and school employees in San Diego County eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but some are making appointments only to get turned away from county sites.

"It's a little chaotic right now, I know there's teachers even teaching in person right now, that really want the vaccine, of course, right, El Cajon or Escondido, if they are not considered quartile 4 schools, they can't get it yet," said teacher Matthew Schneck.

Schneck has been teaching high school virtually for San Diego Unified, but because his school is located in quartile 4, he was able to get the vaccine over the weekend.

"Who should get it first? Whoever is teaching in person," said Schneck.

But that's not how the system is set up.

The county is split up into four regions based on census data. Those regions are scored by the state's Healthy Places Index. Right now, teachers in quartiles three and four are eligible for the vaccine.

"Health equity is an important value for the county, recognizing that not everyone is on equal footing, and in some places, disadvantage can impact a neighborhood profoundly," said Bob Mueller, special projects coordinator with the San Diego County Office of Education.

The county wants to give priority to areas hardest hit by the virus.

"There are places in the county where transmission rates have been high throughout, well above the county average, where schools really never had the opportunity to open," said Mueller.

Mueller said the emphasis on health equity makes sense.

"It allows us to move forward with school opening in kind of an organized way, instead of a few people here and there getting vaccinated the opportunity is available to a whole school that works better for planning," said Mueller.

But even teachers who are eligible based on the county's criteria are still getting turned away.

"They're getting turned away because they didn't make the appointment correctly, they made it through the county website when they should have made it through the VEBA website and that wasn't always immediately clear," said Schneck.

Once the Voluntary Employees Benefits Association (VEBA) gets submissions from qualifying schools, those employees must log into the VEBA portal to make appointments. Employees who register through the county's website will be turned away.

"To make sure that 20% set aside actually goes to K-12, we needed a separate system," said Mueller.

Mueller estimates 70% of school employees want the vaccine now.

"It's not a perfect plan, but it's a good plan, given the time we had to put it together, it hits all the marks, it approaches the problem in terms of speed, equity, assisting the most disadvantaged," said Mueller.