The letter—spearheaded by John Armbrust, CEO of Austin Achieve Public Schools, a local charter school system—called upon Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, to push for the early allocation of vaccines for educators and school staff.
Area districts, such as Austin, Eanes, Georgetown, Lake Travis, Hays, Hutto and Pflugerville ISDs, were among those who signed, as were several charter schools. This group of ISDs serves over 275,000 regional students.
The release states that a majority of educators work on campus among thousands of in-person students. Roughly 10% to 15% of those educators are included in Phase 1B of Texas’ vaccine rollout, which prioritizes health care workers, individuals with certain high-risk medical conditions, long-term care facility residents and people over age 65. Despite their eligibility, however, many school staff members have struggled to find available appointments, according to the news release.
Austin Public Health opened a vaccine registration portal the morning of Jan. 13 that prioritizes individuals in Phases 1A and 1B. However, over 20,000 people had already created accounts to pre-register by 10 a.m. that morning. Demand is outpacing supply, and APH’s current vaccine shipment only included 12,000 doses.
As such, the letter encouraged Dr. Escott to coordinate with one of the region’s 350-plus vaccine providers to arrange vaccine sites and appointments specifically for eligible school staff.
AISD has utilized a similar model, which, according to the release, has proven successful. The district offered vaccines to its Phase 1B-eligible staff through a partnership with Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin.
However, many school systems, especially smaller districts, lack the preexisting connections to facilitate such partnerships with a local health care provider.
The letter further asked Dr. Escott to join local districts in urging the Texas Department of Health and Human Services to include all school staff statewide in Phase 1C of vaccine allocation. This effort could include an educator vaccination week, campus vaccine sites and a collaborative program with school nurses, per the release.
“When we consider COVID’s effect on our most vulnerable populations, the short- and long-term economic impacts of school closures stand out,” the release states. “We must prioritize helping all students and educators return to school safely to ensure students do not suffer long-term effects of learning loss.”
Olivia Aldridge contributed to this report.