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Gov. Mike DeWine explained more of the planned roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations for schools on Thursday, and a state teachers union said the criteria involved has members concerned.
DeWine said the plan as of now is to start vaccinating school personnel in the first week of February, with a goal for schools who receive vaccinations to return to in-person instruction by March 1.
“The sole rationale of vaccinating teachers and others in schools is to open up schools,” DeWine said on Thursday.
To achieve that, a condition of receiving the vaccinations is that superintendents agree to in-person or at least hybrid learning by that date. Forms will be sent to district superintendents this week asking them to agree to that condition.
It is this pre-requisite that the Ohio Federation of Teachers called concerning in a press conference on Thursday morning.
“It is not appropriate to make that a pre-condition of receiving the vaccine,” said OFT executive director Melissa Cropper. “It will slow down the vaccine’s distribution in communities that are hit hardest by the pandemic, and will further bifurcate the academic progress of students across Ohio.”
As of Thursday morning, Cropper said the OFT was unaware of what the state was requiring or even what the distribution plan was, other than the in-school condition.
“That’s because the governor’s office has not clearly communicated that policy to us,” Cropper said.
She said success in reopening schools relies not only on vaccinations, but also on a district’s ability to follow other CDC guidelines, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
Cropper and DeWine both said the distribution and teaching methods would vary from district to district, and decisions about whether to open would still be up to the individual districts.
One school district in the Toledo area said they were notified by the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department that they would be treated as a “closed pod” vaccination point, which are sites staffed and managed to disperse the vaccination to their own staff as the school remains operational, according to the CDC.
“We would need various teams to help make the system work the way it is designed,” Kevin Hofer, head of the Emmanuel Christian School, told the OCJ.
But Hofer said the school is “very interested” in making the vaccine available on a voluntary basis.
Neither the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department nor The Ohio Department of Health responded to multiple requests for comment on the vaccination plan.
The school was part of a lawsuit with other Christian private schools in the state which challenged a local health department resolution closing their schools due to the pandemic. An appeals court said the resolution could not be enforced, but the health department is asking for the case to be reconsidered.
DeWine acknowledged that all efforts to distribute the vaccine have been hindered by the limited amount received by the state, and not all teachers would get the shot by the time March 1 occurred. The shots received would only be the first dose of the vaccine, which is set-up to be fully effective after two doses, given weeks apart.
But Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health, said a study of schools showed they are “very safe” in terms of COVID-19 spread.
“The rate of COVID-19 positivity among those tested was in the neighborhood of 3%, much less than the general population,” Vanderhoff said during Thursday’s DeWine press conference.
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