Philly on course for educators to be fully vaccinated by early April

A doctor extracts COVID-19 vaccine out of a vial

In this Jan. 15, 2021, file photo, Dr. Yomaris Pena extracts the last bit of COVID-19 vaccine out of a vial. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

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A Philadelphia program to get city educators vaccinated is picking up speed, officials say. Within four weeks, they expect all 20,000 people in the queue to have two shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Although there are still no firm plans to offer in-person classes to School District of Philadelphia students in third grade and above, the vaccination campaign likely presages more face-to-face education after a year of virtual learning.

“Very soon these buildings are going to be filled again,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, standing inside one of the vaccination sites at South Philadelphia High School. “And this is one piece of what needs to get us there, which I’m so excited to see.”

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Officials say they sent out appointment invitations to about 35,000 educators in Philadelphia’s district, charter, and private schools. The invitations were based on where educators work, not where they live.

Of those 35,000 invitations, 20,000 school staff scheduled appointments at one of six vaccination sites set up by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which is overseeing this fast-track vaccination program for educators.

So far, 9,000 of those 20,000 staff have received one dose of the vaccine. By next Saturday, March 13, officials say all 20,000 will have received a first dose. There is a three-week separation needed between the first and second doses for the Pfizer vaccine, which means city educators would be fully inoculated by early April.

That pace puts Philadelphia ahead of the mile marker set by the Biden administration, which said this week that states should aim for educators to get a first shot by the end of March.

“I want to underscore how significant this effort is here in Philadelphia,” said William Hite, superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. “I was talking with superintendents yesterday on a call from around the country where in many places they’re just starting to vaccinate teachers who are over 65.”

By comparison, the District of Columbia announced Thursday that educators working virtually could begin to pre-register for vaccinations.

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It’s still unclear how teacher vaccination will influence the volume of face-to-face classes.

After a detailed negotiation with its teachers union, the district plans to welcome back about 2,600 young students to 53 schools Monday. That represents only about 2% of the district’s enrollment.

So far, 9,000 of those 20,000 staff have received one dose of the vaccine. By next Saturday, March 13, officials say all 20,000 will have received a first dose. There is a three-week separation needed between the first and second doses for the Pfizer vaccine, which means city educators would be fully inoculated by early April.

That pace puts Philadelphia ahead of the mile marker set by the Biden administration, which said this week that states should aim for educators to get a first shot by the end of March.

“I want to underscore how significant this effort is here in Philadelphia,” said William Hite, superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia. “I was talking with superintendents yesterday on a call from around the country where in many places they’re just starting to vaccinate teachers who are over 65.”

By comparison, the District of Columbia announced Thursday that educators working virtually could begin to pre-register for vaccinations.

It’s still unclear how teacher vaccination will influence the volume of face-to-face classes.

After a detailed negotiation with its teachers union, the district plans to welcome back about 2,600 young students to 53 schools Monday. That represents only about 2% of the district’s enrollment.

The district has another 99 elementary schools that the union and district are reviewing to ensure both parties believe they’re safe for occupancy. The district hopes to announce another 50 schools on Monday and have all 152 sites open by March 22 for a group of pre-K through second grade students whose families selected in-person learning in a November survey.

The subsequent reopening phase would include special education students, English language learners, and high school students who have hands-on technical courses. There’s no firm date for that. And the district hasn’t said much at all about general education students in grades three and above.

All of this is happening as many city charter schools are slowly reopening their buildings. Private and parochial schools, meanwhile, have been holding in-person classes for months with minimal documented coronavirus spread.

Vaccine availability for educators could speed the reopening of buildings, but it’s not the only consideration. Students may not be vaccinated until next year, and Philadelphia’s teachers union has kept a close eye on ventilation in city classrooms — which will likely be a consideration in any plan to bring more students back.

Of the 15,000 school staff that did not schedule appointments through CHOP, it’s unclear how many decided not to get the vaccine and how many procured shots through another channel.

Farley emphasized that teachers who do not get a shot through CHOP are still eligible to get the vaccine through a pharmacy, city clinic, or other methods.

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