Washington’s top education official and Kaiser Permanente Washington are expected to announce a plan Friday to vaccinate the state’s teachers and school staff.
Chris Reykdal, the state superintendent, and the insurance and medical care provider offered few details about the plan in a statement released late Thursday afternoon.
But Katy Payne, spokesperson for the state’s education department, said the partnership would make it easier for school districts to set up vaccine clinics on school grounds. The state’s education department has no control over the vaccine timeline, she added.
The announcement came hours after Gov. Jay Inslee said in an interview that he didn’t have immediate plans to speed delivery of available vaccines to K-12 employees. The state would continue to prioritize older Washingtonians, he said, who are among those most vulnerable to the coronavirus’s effects.
“I can double darn guarantee you that teachers would get vaccines by noon tomorrow if I had 7 million doses. But I don’t,” he said.
The push to get the state’s approximately 153,000 public school employees vaccinated has moved in fits and starts. A few weeks ago, state health officials outlined a plan to vaccinate about 40% of the state’s school workforce — those ages 50 and older — beginning in February. That plan put younger employees further down the vaccine priority list; they wouldn’t qualify until April.
The Washington Education Association educators union and state lawmakers have called on Inslee and health officials to speed up the vaccination of teachers — and last week, those guidelines seemed to change. In an email, state Department of Health officials said they recently told providers they should start by vaccinating employees over age 50, but were permitted to vaccinate younger employees sooner than April.
“Our goal is to reach the highest risk teachers in February — those over 50 years of age,” a DOH spokesperson wrote. “We know that this doesn’t include everyone at high risk in a school environment but since supply is limited, we must make difficult decisions about which groups get the vaccine first. We are working to get through these early groups as quickly as possible and are making progress daily.”
Health officials said that if providers start vaccinating younger employees, they should start with people who work at schools with the highest percentage of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, a proxy for coming from a low-income home. They should also prioritize those who work with children with health care needs.
Several local teachers unions — including Bellevue’s — have rebuffed their districts’ attempts to resume in-person learning before widespread availability of a vaccine for teachers. Other districts, such as Spokane, have made plans to set up vaccine clinics for educators beginning early next month.
In neighboring Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown has put K-12 teachers in front of people who are 65 and older in the vaccine queue.