Thursday, March 30, 2023
March 30, 2023

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Clark County education leaders join state teachers union to press for vaccine

By , Columbian staff writer

As more teachers and school staffers return to classrooms for in-person instruction, their COVID-19 eligibility timeline can be confusing.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington State Department of Health issued a revised vaccine distribution schedule for all Washingtonians.

The changes moved the state to Phase 1B-Tier 1, allowing everyone 65 and older and those 50 and older living in multigenerational households eligible to be vaccinated. In addition, the state said it is allowing provider flexibility to distribute vaccines for individuals eligible for the next stages, Phase 1B, tiers 2-4.

What does that mean for K-12 teachers and school staff, especially after a big push by state education leaders to prioritize vaccines for all educators? Subject to vaccine availability, all school employees are eligible to be vaccinated at the same time.

However, Clark County Public Health spokeswoman Marissa Armstrong clarified Friday that while Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan creates some flexibility for the next stages in vaccine distribution, it doesn’t mean all tiers will be eligible simultaneously.

Vaccination news elusive

Southwest Washington residents eager to learn more about plans for broader vaccination efforts will have to wait longer as health officials and a federal incident management team develop those plans.

Clark County Public Health announced Friday that details about vaccination sites through the federal effort, including locations and opening days are not currently available.

Public Health also said it couldn’t provide information about a mass vaccination site at the Clark County Fairgrounds that Gov. Jay Inslee said would open next week. It said the county and the federal team secured the fairgrounds site but said all announcements about it will come from the Washington State Department of Health.

Public Health said it continues to accept request forms for those who qualify for the current vaccination phase and connecting them to local providers who have vaccines. They cautioned it could be weeks before those who submitted requests are contacted by a provider, however.

— Mark Bowder

Vaccination priority for Phase 1B-Tier 2 remains for high-risk critical workers ages 50 and older working in congregate settings, including those working in schools. In the DOH’s revised vaccine rollout chart, K-12 educators and staff younger than 50 are now pushed further down the timeline in what’s now labeled “spring/summer.”

Armstrong added that if, for example, a school facility hosts a vaccination event for its staff, then tiers could combine to allow staff of all ages to be vaccinated. No plans currently are in place for a vaccination event at local schools.

Superintendents of Clark County’s two largest districts, Evergreen and Vancouver, recently joined other state education leaders by co-authoring a letter urging Inslee and state health officials to accelerate vaccination efforts for all K-12 educators. In the state’s previous rollout plan, only educators and school staff 50 and older were eligible for a vaccine starting in February.

Washington Education Association, the state’s teachers union, took a strong stance this week, on the important of vaccinating teachers in full before students return to the classroom. Locally, the Battle Ground Education Association says it strongly opposes further expansion of in-person instruction unless all district staff are provided access to both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Battle Ground Public Schools remains on track to welcome students in all its elementary schools for twice-a-week hybrid learning starting Feb. 1. All Battle Ground elementary schools serve students in grades K-4.

Fiona Engebretson, president of the association, said Friday there was a fruitful conversation with the district around the association’s recently passed resolution.

“The main goal as we transition to hybrid is that they are able to safely work with their students and to keep families safe and all Battle Ground Public Schools staff safe,” Engebretson said.