On Monday, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that he requested both state and local officials to immediately turn all schools in the district into COVID-19 vaccination sites.
In a letter to both California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly and Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, Beutner noted that, as the second largest school district in the country, the LAUSD has significantly more challenges to vaccinate compared to other districts. And, with Governor Gavin Newsom’s plan to reopen schools statewide beginning as soon as next month, LA would need to begin vaccinating soon, despite Beutner’s objections to the plan.
Beutner, now bogged down by reopening COVID-19 concerns and teachers who may not want to return to teaching in-class unless they have received the vaccine, showed the positives of moving up teachers in the vaccination schedule and having vaccinations done at school.
‘There’s a unique and important benefit to having Los Angeles Unified as a vaccination partner — doing so will help reopen schools as soon as possible, and in the safest way possible,” Beutner explained on Monday. “This will not only protect the health and safety of our essential employees but will provide enormous benefit to children and their families, leading to a faster reopening of schools and of the economy more broadly by enabling the working families we serve to go back to work.”
“Few organizations in the Los Angeles area have this deep and proven set of capabilities and few are as trusted by the community. Families trust schools to keep their children safe and that trust extends to the entire family. A trusted partner providing the vaccination at a trusted location will increase the chances of a successful and more speedy vaccination effort.”
Beutner also pointed out that, even if the offer was rejected, schools could still serve as vaccination sites for other qualified groups of people.
However, even if the vaccinations were moved up for educators, especially those in COVID-19 hotspot Los Angeles, which saw nearly 10,000 new COVID-19 cases on Monday countywide, there would still be significant wait times. California only received 3.2 million vaccine doses, with many already having gone out to healthcare workers, those over 65, and those in or working in nursing homes. Their move from Phase 1B would also likely have other groups in that phase, including essential workers and public safety workers, to demand to have them sooner as well.
But even with LA having freezers and vaccine storage units ready to go and school district nurses prepared to administer the vaccine, Los Angeles has focused on large, spatially distanced vaccine centers such as Dodger Stadium to vaccinate those currently allowed to get the vaccine rather than spread out into smaller sites.
The push for more vaccination sites in LA, criticism of Beutner’s request
In a second statement later on Monday, Beutner countered that the school approach was the best way moving forward.
“I’m not so sure that asking an elderly person to drive across town to sit in the car for three hours is necessarily the best way to serve the needs of that individual,” explained Beutner. “We’re ready to go. We have all of the capabilities and are probably one of the more trusted organizations in a family’s life. If the goal is ultimately to see as much of society vaccinated as possible, let us help.
Part of it is a little bit of a frustration with LA County, but a part of it is, ‘Let’s not let it go to waste.’ There are unused doses of the vaccine. Let’s get them in the shoulders of those that work in the schools as soon as we can. Why wouldn’t we?”
Many critics have pointed out flaws in the school plans, as well as possible ulterior motives on the school districts request.
“They want the vaccine early, and they’re trying to sell it as a public good to have COVID vaccinations be spread out,” said “Rosie,” a nurse at a large Southern Californian site who has been helping administer vaccines, to the Globe under condition of anonymity. “We only have so many doses though, and who knows how many we’ll be getting in the coming days. Right now, this is the best way.”
“I understand the offer and the need to vaccinate, but it seems like they’re trying to jump ahead in a line where there are so many people who need it. If there is a school start date and we get a large shipment of doses in that needs to be filtered out to smaller sites, then maybe it can work. High schools do have have larger parking lots and big open areas in the form of gymnasiums and things.”
“But we need to get healthcare workers and vulnerable people vaccinated first, and we need more vaccine doses. If the schools are ready, great. But we cannot push that button once we know for sure where we are at.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other Los Angeles officials have noted that Dodger Stadium will serve as the vaccination hub for now while the state tries to procure more vaccines for distribution.
More news on advanced vaccine rollouts and additional vaccination centers are expected in the coming weeks.