USC Verdugo Hills Hospital and other institutions will begin vaccinating area elementary school teachers for COVID-19 next week, including Glendale Unified School District teachers who choose to sign up for the inoculation.
The hospital will take 350 teachers on Monday and another 350 on Thursday and aims to continue its vaccination work with additional teachers and members of the community, as eligibility increases. The concrete plan is a welcome development weeks after the initial rollout for vaccinating teachers was delayed because of supply issues.
Additionally, Adventist Health Glendale and Glendale Memorial Hospital also will be handling vaccinations for GUSD teachers.
“At some point, we’d like to spread our wings a little bit and do any teachers we can,” said Kristi Cohen, USC-VHH’s human resources director who is developing this teacher vaccination program.
In addition to GUSD teachers, the hospital is also targeting La Cañada Unified School District teachers as well as those at other area private schools. The free vaccinations will be the Pfizer variant, meaning that teachers will return to USC-VHH three weeks later to get their second doses. Additionally, the broader USC Keck School of Medicine network plans to begin vaccinating teachers in San Marino, South Pasadena, East Los Angeles, Inglewood, Compton and South L.A. next week.
Cohen explained that as the teachers arrive, they’ll line up for their shots and stick around in a socially distant seating area in case anyone has an adverse reaction to the vaccine. Meanwhile, a 25-minute video chronicling the hospital’s response to the coronavirus pandemic for nearly a year will play on a loop, highlighting the hospital’s work to support the community and the reciprocating response from residents and entities here.
“Hopefully by the end, they’re leaving the hospital with a different view,” Cohen said.
In a statement, GUSD this week said at least 850 appointments have been made for district employees to be vaccinated and expected that number to grow. Other health care providers also are working with the district to provide the vaccinations, which remain voluntary for GUSD employees.
“We are incredibly grateful to our local health care partners who have generously committed their time and energy to help us facilitate vaccine appointments for teachers and staff, who are essential workers, as we prepare to return our elementary students for in-person learning,” GUSD Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said in a statement.
According to the district, a survey of employees regarding vaccinations indicated that 77% of respondents were interested in being vaccinated. (Fifty-six percent of the district’s employees responded to the survey.) The district added that it is prioritizing appointments for teachers whose duties will require them to be consistently working on-site and in direct interaction with children and others.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recently committed to opening up vaccinations to those eligible under Phase 1b, Tier 1 of the distribution plan, which among others includes teachers, emergency responders and those working in food or agriculture jobs. The decision roughly coincides with the county also giving permission for all elementary schools to start a phased return-to-school plan for elementary grades.
“Student and employee health and safety is our top priority,” GUSD Board of Education President Armina Gharpetian said in a statement. “Our Board of Education and district leadership are committed to proactively facilitating vaccine appointments for all employees who wish to be vaccinated as quickly as possible to ensure a safe return to on-campus instruction.”
GUSD, which brought some students back to Horace Mann Elementary School in January under a county waiver, currently expects to reopen its other elementary schools starting in late March, following spring break. The district will use a hybrid model, with students returning to the classroom as their families decide and tentatively running a block schedule alternating between in-person and remote instruction. Those families who wish to remain entirely remote will be permitted to do so.
GUSD reached an agreement with its classified employees through the California School Employees Association this week, while negotiations continue with the Glendale Teachers Association on an agreement for the reopening.
As hospitals have been vaccinating residents throughout the year, Cohen observed that it often becomes an emotional moment for those receiving the shots after a tumultuous year of the pandemic. Amid the “overwhelming feeling” of the moment, she said people also have been making sure to document the event as an important moment in time.
“We have so many people taking pictures in their chairs, with their nurses, something they can show their grandkids one day,” Cohen said.
Since December, American health care providers have been limited to either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations, which are two-dose shots that, once thawed from a frigid storage temperature, must be used quickly. Officials are anticipating emergency approval of a vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, which requires only one dose and can be refrigerated for later use.
“I can only imagine what that would look like if we get to a single dose,” Cohen said. “That’s twice as many people with an opportunity to get it.”