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School staff not getting vaccinated as planned

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

About 700 Albuquerque Public Schools employees thought they were going to get a vaccination for COVID-19 this week, but that didn’t happen. And a drive-thru shot clinic was scheduled for 1,800 staff members in Rio Rancho Public Schools, Bernalillo Public Schools and nearby charter schools, but that won’t happen either.

The state Department of Health told the Journal that the school district vaccination events aren’t moving forward because New Mexico largely isn’t vaccinating school staff yet, and is concentrating efforts on people 75 years and older and those who are at least 16 years old who have underlying medical conditions that increase risk from COVID-19.

“We are not yet vaccinating frontline essential workers,” DOH spokesman Matt Bieber said in an email. New Mexico is approaching vaccine distribution in phases and isn’t at the point where frontline essential workers – including K-12 staff who can’t work remotely – are the focus.

Christus St. Vincent registered nurse Jeremy Willard prepares a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in December. Education leaders are disappointed this week after they learned events to vaccinate school staff will not move forward as planned. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Bieber didn’t answer questions about why other school staff in the state have reportedly received the vaccine. But DOH has said previously there are exceptions to the phases if a provider was to pull from the next priority group to make sure a vaccine didn’t go to waste.

Still, the school leaders the Journal spoke with are openly disappointed.

“People that have talked to me are pretty clear that it was heartbreaking. That it was very difficult,” APS Interim Superintendent Scott Elder said.

He said APS was told by a provider they were initially allotted 2,000 vaccines. That was later dropped to 1,000 and the district prioritized them for staff in the district that make in-person small groups happen for students with disabilities, including teachers. Elder said a clinic was slated for the end of this week and the district didn’t learn until Tuesday that it wasn’t going to occur, he said.

“The APS event wasn’t cancelled. It was never approved, because New Mexico isn’t yet vaccinating teachers or education staff,” Beiber wrote in the email.

Rio Rancho Public Schools can relate. Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland told the Journal that staff was “extremely distressed” about the decision. In a memo to staff, she said the district and its partners had been transparent with DOH throughout the planning process.

“This is after Sandoval Regional Medical Center, Sandoval County and Rio Rancho Public Schools received permission from (DOH) to move forward with the event … now, one day before the event, (DOH) has determined that they need to cancel,” she said in the memo to staff.

State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, had scathing words for DOH after learning the education staff wouldn’t get the vaccines this week, calling it “irresponsible” and “disastrous.”

Bieber didn’t reply to questions on the disconnect in information that allowed these events to be planned in the first place. But he did stress New Mexico has to stick to the distribution sequence to ensure people most exposed and vulnerable to the coronavirus are protected.

“DOH understands that New Mexicans are eager for vaccine – and we are eager to distribute vaccine. In fact, New Mexico is vaccinating its population faster than almost every other state – and we could distribute significantly more. The issue is supply. Like all states, we depend on the federal government for our supply of vaccines,” he said.

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