Summit County school districts hope to begin teacher vaccinations next week. Here's what we know
All school employees in Summit County were slated to be first in line in the state among their peers to receive the COVID-19 next week, but shortages of doses will push that out over two weeks, a local coordinator for the vaccine process for schools said.
Joe Iacano, superintendent of the Summit County Educational Service Center, said the state informed him around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday that there would not be enough doses to vaccinate all school-based employees in the county the first week.
"The originally planned week is not going to happen for everybody," Iacano said.
Iacano said it has not been determined which districts and schools will receive them the week of Feb. 1 and which will have to wait until Feb. 8.
In his 2 p.m. press briefing Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine said a previous start date of Feb. 1 for vaccinations for schools staff would be moved up slightly for schools in Cincinnati this week. But some schools that had been counting on the vaccine starting Feb. 1 won't get it that week.
Demand for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines continues to outstrip supply, and that will slow the program a bit.
“Not every school will be able to be started on Feb. 1,” the governor said.
For Akron Public Schools, the timeline will likely dictate when students will return to schools. For other districts, teachers and other staff have already been working in schools for months without a vaccine.
Akron, along with more than 95% of districts in the state, pledged to DeWine's office it would reopen schools in March if teachers had early access to the vaccine in February.
But Superintendent David James has said he sees the governor's March 1 deadline as flexible, and is eyeing a return to school closer to the third week of March. It largely depends, he has said, on when staff is able to receive both doses of the vaccine, which require three to four weeks in between and a week to two weeks after the second dose to build up full immunity.
Western Reserve Hospital, Summit County Public Health, Akron Children's Hospital and Discount Drug Mart will provide the vaccines for Summit County schools, Iacano said.
Iacano's organization is coordinating the vaccine rollout for several public districts in the region, as well as its own early education teachers and staff at about 50 charter and parochial schools.
"All the vendors I have no doubt are trying to meet the needs of schools and are doing the best they can," he said.
How rollout will work
Akron Children’s Hospital will provide vaccines for Akron Public Schools, Copley-Fairlawn, Coventry, Stow-Munroe Falls, Tallmadge and Woodridge, as well as Edge Academy and Akros Middle School, but is still awaiting guidance from the state about how many doses it will receive and when.
Children's Chief Quality Officer Michael Bigham anticipates that the state, not the hospital, will decide which districts receive the vaccine first if they arrive in multiple doses over several weeks.
"I don't think Akron Children's will have to pick amongst our school partners who gets the Vaccine Week 1 and who doesn't," he said. "What we do expect is that we'll be instructed, based on the state's algorithm, which vaccines go to which schools, and without question, we'll get everyone vaccinated who wants to, just at the pace that it comes to us."
Bigham added that he does not expect to begin distributing vaccines on Feb. 1.
"Mondays are often the day that the vaccine comes in, and if they don't, we think it's unfair to schedule and then reschedule. The most reasonable first day is Feb. 2, but that depends on the expectation of vaccine delivery and sometimes that's not perfectly clear. We will make up for whatever we don't get done on Monday or Tuesday by week's end,” he said.
Because the hospital already provides nursing services to several of its partner schools, it plans to bring the vaccines to the schools, rather than have teachers come to the hospital. Akron Children’s is working on plans with each district.
"We'd rather bring the vaccine to them. We don't want any barriers between individuals and the vaccine. We don't want transportation to be a variable,” he said.
Bigham is confident that the hospital is able to distribute vaccines in a mobile fashion while rigorously adhering to the temperature standards, noting that they have yet to waste a single vaccine.
Whenever there are leftover doses, the hospital turns to a list of people who are scheduled to receive the vaccine the following day, so that already-thawed doses do not go unused.
“Without question, we'll get everyone vaccinated who wants to, just at the pace that it comes to us,” he said.
Specific details unclear
In the Tallmadge City School District, over 90% of Tallmadge City School staff are planning to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but district leaders are still unclear how that will happen.
Tallmadge Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said "so much of this is unknown."
"We don't know yet if they're going to vaccinate 25 of our staff a day, or all 285 at once," he said.
The district is also working on a contingency plan in case all personnel receive the first dose on the same day.
"We may need to suggest a remote day for the next day [after vaccination] and be prepared," Ferguson said.
In the Stow-Munroe Falls School District, kindergartners through fourth-graders will start reporting to school five days a week on Feb. 1, the same day district staff are eligible to begin receiving the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
On Monday, Superintendent Tom Bratten announced the change from hybrid to fully in-person for the district's youngest students in response to the Ohio Department of Health relaxing the recommended social distancing for only 3 feet at the lower grade levels.
Bratten requested 750 vaccines, accounting for about 90% of staff, including teachers, administrators, supplemental and substitutes.
School leaders will meet with Akron Children's Hospital on Wednesday to determine how and when they'll receive vaccinations.
Manchester Local School District Superintendent James Robinson said he hasn’t received a firm date for administration of the vaccine. But he expects to know later this week and believed Tuesday morning it will come the week of Feb. 1.
Discount Drug Mart is scheduled to arrange administration of the vaccine for Manchester, along with Springfield, Norton, Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson. Some charter and private schools also are included in this group.
Jason Briscoe, director of pharmacy operations for Medina-based Discount Drug Mart, said locations for administering the vaccines for teachers still are being finalized. His company is talking with the Summit Education Service Center, which is acting as an intermediary between the state and some of the county’s school districts.
Briscoe said that the timing of the vaccine distribution will be determined by the supply distributed to the state.
“The priority remains that all first doses can be completed by the end of February,” he said. “It’s all predicated on vaccine.”
Cuyahoga Falls City School District Superintendent Dr. Todd Nichols said the district is working on details like the other districts.
“We are planning to host vaccinations Feb. 6 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m in the CFHS Gymnasium and Cafeteria,” Nichols said via email. “We have a fall-back date of Feb. 5, which is a Friday.”
Nichols said the district anticipates a participation rate of 87% based on staff survey results.
Summit County Public Health is tasked by the state with its own school districts in Summit County, including Nordonia and Mogadore.
Summit County Public Health environmental health director Tonia Burford said she anticipates the agency will need about 1,600 doses for its district employees.
Burford said the districts were divvied up in the interests of efficiency.
“They split it up so we can get the vaccine out timely,” she said.
Since it began administering the vaccines, the health department has given about 7,000 shots in drive-thru clinics, she said.
Like others, Burford believes details on time and location of the shots will be hammered out before the end of the week.
Some districts, including Barberton and Green, still are awaiting a group assignment.
Barberton Superintendent Jeffrey Ramnytz said his district is working with the Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio, along with Akron, Revere and Twinsburg. He said the ESC is working on details with the state for the district.
He said Discount Drug Mart also will be its distribution partner, but is still waiting on details.
It might be difficult to find a superintendent more excited about the vaccine’s arrival than Chuck Sincere at Springfield Locals Schools.
“It gives our folks hope, our parents and our community hope,” he said. “We want to beat COVID.”
A survey conducted by the district earlier this month found about 64% of the district employees who responded were sure they would get the vaccine when offered. Another 21% said they were mulling their options.
But Sincere believes the percentage may go much higher.
“I’m anticipating I’m going to have a high number of people that want to get this vaccination,” he said.
Beacon Journal staff writer Phil Keren contributed to this report.