Phasing in teacher vaccinations will be gradual process, emails show

While North Carolina plans to open up vaccine supply to teachers and school employees on Feb. 24, the process will be gradual, and the priority will still be the current groups. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY—While teachers become eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Feb. 24, adding them and other school employees to the vaccination schedule will be a gradual process, according to a county spokesperson.

Governor Roy Cooper announced the planned transition into the next vaccination phase last week, as calls from state and federal health officials to reopen schools heated up. 

While health officials support schools reopening even without across-the-board vaccinations for school staff, many in the education field have advocated for earlier access to the vaccines. 


Read More: New Hanover County elementary students return to classrooms five days a week this March

Up until now, the vaccine providers in New Hanover County have been working through the local population of healthcare workers and individuals ages 65 and older — the current eligibility list.

According to data compiled by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, almost 30,000 first-dose shots have been given in New Hanover County, and a third of those individuals have received their second shot in the two-dose regime. 

County estimates put the total of residents ages 65 and older at around 37,000 people, while the number of healthcare workers is more ambiguous. 

On Feb 24, as vaccinations for the current groups continue, the state will introduce individuals into the queue who teach, drive buses or vans, and work in custodial, food or maintenance departments at childcare centers and homes, traditional public, charter or private schools, as well as Head Start Programs and pre-K.

Statewide, it’s an estimated 240,000 people. 

Even though school staff will immediately be eligible to join the line on Feb. 24, the state has made it clear to counties that vaccinating those who are currently eligible is the priority.

Read More: Cooper says educators will be first in Group 3 to receive Covid-19 vaccine

New Hanover County Public Health, on its regular call this week with top employees of New Hanover Regional Medical Center, discussed vaccinations for teachers.

According to an internal email, there was some discussion of keying in totally on vaccinating school staff between Feb. 24 and March 10 — when the floodgates open wider to the rest of Group 3. However, David Howard, the interim health director, seemed to backtrack on the idea. 

“After going through our notes from our call today, we wanted to emphasize that today’s call was informal,” he wrote to hospital leaders. “In particular, the concept/idea of NHC PH doing exclusively NHCS personnel 2/24-3/10 may not be workable and appropriate on our end, so let’s not treat that as a plan.”

According to an internal email to county leaders from Tim Buckland, the county’s intergovernmental affairs manager, “the two-week priority for teachers does NOT mean they jump the line over groups 1 and 2,” he said. 

Buckland then added, “Counties and health providers should continue to vaccinate groups 1 and 2. The two-week priority is intended to give teachers and school support staff a ‘head start.’” 

In his email after the announcement about teacher vaccines, Buckland said he had just completed a call with the deputy director of government relations for the NCDHHS. 

He reported that “counties will not get increased allocations just for teachers,” and that the county should submit an application for a “special event” vaccine allocation for teachers.

“[Health Secretary Mandy Cohen] will be sending out a letter emphasizing that, just because teachers are eligible, it may be some time before teachers actually get vaccines because the priority should still be groups 1 and 2,” Buckland wrote.


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