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Teachers to get priority for COVID-19 vaccine, Dane County public health department says

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With the teachers’ union raising questions about the Madison School District’s plans to begin in-person learning for some younger students next month, local public health officials on Friday said they will launch a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic for teachers.

Public Health Madison and Dane County has requested 7,000 doses of vaccine for the week of March 1 and 7,000 doses for the week of March 8 for some 14,000 K-12 staff to get their shots at the Alliant Energy Center, including on weekends, the agency said. It estimates there are about 15,000 school staff in Dane County, but some of them have already been vaccinated because they are over 65 and thus part of the first eligible group for vaccinations.

Depending on available supply, vaccinating county educators is expected to take from six to eight weeks. Access Community Health Centers, Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, SSM Health, Stoughton Health, UnityPoint Health-Meriter, UW Health and UW-Madison’s University Health Services are participating in the effort.

“We’re happy to lead the effort to vaccinate teachers at the Alliant Energy Center,” Public Health director Janel Heinrich said in a statement. “We all want kids in classrooms and vaccinated teachers are one more way that schools can protect the health and safety of staff and students.”

While many public schools in Dane County began reopening in recent months to some in-person learning, and many private schools have been in-person since September, Madison public school students won’t begin returning to the classroom until March 9, when kindergartners go back. First- and second-graders are set to return March 16 and 4-year-old kindergarten students on March 23.

The union Madison Teachers Inc. has not directly opposed the return but has said it “cannot and will not encourage members to support any district plan for re-entry” until the district provides responses to a raft of questions the union posed in a Feb. 12 open letter, including whether the district would work with health authorities to expedite the delivery of the vaccine to educators, and an explanation of the metrics used by the district to determine when it is safe to reopen.

Recent studies have shown that schools are not main sources of COVID-19 transmission and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released school-reopening guidance that does not say teacher vaccination must occur before schools reopen but urges vaccination as soon as supply allows.

Currently eligible for vaccination in Wisconsin are those over 65, frontline health workers, nursing home and long-term care residents and staff, emergency responders and prison staff. Those working in education and child care are the first to be prioritized for the vaccine of the people in the next eligible group, beginning March 1, according to the state Department of Health Services. That group also includes people in Medicaid long-term care programs, grocery workers and those in group living settings.

Public Health spokesperson Sarah Mattes said that the agency doesn’t expect all those in the currently eligible group will be vaccinated before it begins vaccinating teachers.

With production of vaccine still ramping up, Wisconsin and other states haven’t been getting as many doses as they’ve been requesting. Mattes said that if Public Health only gets some of the 7,000 doses it’s requested for teachers for March 1, teachers will get all those doses, while those over 65 and others in the currently eligible group will get all of the doses provided as part of a separate, 3,100-dose request.

School administrators will be alerting staff when it is their turn to be vaccinated, according to the public health department, and any on-site vaccination clinics school districts have already scheduled with SSM Health will continue.

Public Health said that to date, more than 15% of Dane County residents have been vaccinated.

Mattes said the Madison School District and other public districts and private schools had been requesting a mass-vaccination effort for their employees.

Public Health spokesperson Sarah Mattes said that the agency doesn’t expect all those in the currently eligible group will be vaccinated before it begins vaccinating teachers.


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