Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said West Hartford Public Schools hopes to begin vaccination clinics for teachers and staff on March 5. [Updated]
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Public Schools teachers and staff will be able to sign up for their COVID-19 vaccines beginning next week, and Superintendent Tom Moore said Thursday that the district plans to hold the first clinic on March 5 at Conard High School.
Under the revised guidance announced by Gov. Ned Lamont on Feb. 22, Pre-K through grade 12 teachers and staff as well as professional childcare providers will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines beginning March 1, and health directors have been requested to arrange dedicated vaccination clinics.
Depending on the uptake, between 1,500 and 1,700 doses are needed for the West Hartford Public Schools teachers and staff – including bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, substitute teachers, office staff, coaches, and anyone else who works in the school buildings. The statewide directive includes volunteers, but Moore said the district has not permitted volunteers in the schools this academic year.
“I want to thank Aimee Krauss, our Health Director, Bob McCue, who has been coordinating West Hartford’s pandemic response, and [Assistant Superintendent] Andy Morrow for their help in organizing what I expect will be the model for employee clinics in the state,” Moore said in an email to staff Thursday afternoon. That letter provided an outline of what they can expect, and specific registration details will follow in the next few days.
Krauss, director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, said her department has been given a directive by the Department of Public Health (DPH) to pause scheduling new clinics for eligible members of the public and shift the focus to vaccinating educators and school staff. For the Health District, that includes not only West Hartford Public Schools, but also the private schools in town and professional daycare workers.
“Between the schools and daycare for both towns, I’ll need 5,000 doses,” Krauss told We-Ha.com.
She’s putting in requests, but doesn’t yet know how many will be received.
Krauss said the Health District has enough staff to handle vaccination of all of the school and daycare staff, but that it won’t all happen the first week. West Hartford Public Schools will have their own dedicated clinics, and separate closed clinics will be held to include non-public school teachers and staff as well as child care providers.
Moore said the names of all who are eligible to receive a vaccine through West Hartford Public Schools will be uploaded in to the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) and they will receive an email with instructions on how to schedule their appointments.
The clinics – which Moore hopes will run each Friday and Saturday afternoon at Conard – will be closed clinics only for those registered through VAMS, through the Health District. They will not be open to the general public.
Moore said Friday that while he hoped to hold two clinics the first weekend, only the March 5 clinic has been given the green light. The duration of that clinic and the number of stations that will be available for vaccination can be increased, however, if additional doses become available.
“If the state comes through, we will have enough to vaccinate everyone by the end of March,” Moore said, with the second doses being administered during April.
As of now, the Health District is only administering the Moderna vaccine. Krauss said she doesn’t know if and when they will receive doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that pending authorization by the FDA, the state is scheduled to receive 30,000 doses of the J&J vaccine next week, in addition to 100,000 doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Due to the storage needs, the Health District has not been administering the Pfizer vaccine, but modification of storage guidelines has been discussed.
“It is important to note that we don’t have a choice of vaccines, it is not a buffet, and that we should be excited to get any of them. They all have been shown to dramatically reduce the chances of contracting a severe case of the virus,” Moore said in his email to staff.
The West Hartford Public Schools vaccine clinics are based on employment, not residency in West Hartford, and that information will be verified, Moore said.
Educators who work somewhere other than West Hartford, even if they live in town, will need to be vaccinated through their school districts.
While some who work for West Hartford Public Schools will become eligible under state guidelines on March 1 or later in the month based on their age, the intent is to have those individuals participate in the closed clinics, where there will be enough appointments available for all who want to be vaccinated, rather than taking appointment slots needed by others.
“We are dedicating clinics to assure that there is enough for all staff,” Moore said.
Public clinics that the Health District has already scheduled – March 4, 11, and 18 at West Hartford Town Hall, and Tuesdays through March 23 in Bloomfield – will still take place, Krauss said. Those appointments slots have already been filled by individuals ages 65 and up and others who were previously eligible, and some individuals are scheduled for second doses.
The Health District has been doing vaccinations since Dec. 24, Krauss said, and has the process running smoothly so that each station can handle an appointment at 10-minute intervals. At the clinics at Town Hall, there are typically 300-350 vaccines given per day, with six or seven stations set up.
“The number we do per day depends on the allocation,” she said.
Once someone receives their shot, they are asked to remain on premises for 15 minutes (30 minutes if they have indicated previous allergic reactions to certain substances) in a waiting area.
The allocation intended for school and daycare employees will come out of a separate allotment of vaccine doses, Krauss said.
The Health District will continue vaccinating homebound individuals in collaboration with the West Hartford Fire Department paramedics through the At Risk Community Health (ARCH) program, and those come out of the general public allocation. Some of the individuals who received their vaccines through ARCH will soon be ready for their second doses.
Town Manager Matt Hart said in his report to the Town Council Tuesday night that 22 individuals had already been vaccinated through ARCH, and 20 more are scheduled for the next week.
After all of the education and daycare staff who choose to be vaccinated have received their doses, or if there is enough supply in addition to what the Health District needs for those individuals, Krauss said she will schedule other clinics.
Hart said the Health District will be running a large-scale vaccination site in West Hartford, and has signed an agreement for a new electronic health record system that should be operational in March and will be a more user-friendly alternative to VAMS that won’t require dedicated email addresses.
“Planning is also underway to operate a drive-through clinic to serve the larger population beginning in April,” Hart told the Town Council. Various sites are being considered, including the Public Works complex on Brixton Street where a drive-through flu clinic was held last fall in part as practice for COVID-19 vaccination.
Hart also said he anticipates the town will receive funding through Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) allocations to increase access to vaccination by conducting clinics in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Possible sites for those clinics include the Elmwood Community Center and Hillcrest Area Community Outreach Center (HANOC).
Hart also reported that as of Tuesday, in just over two weeks in operation, West Hartford’s Vaccine InfoLine had received 448 calls. InfoLine is staffed by librarians. Most questions can be answered during the call, with the goal of offering a solution or resolution to all questions within 24 hours. The InfoLine, which is open Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m., can be reached at 860-561-6998.
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