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Pinellas County Schools, health department partner up to vaccinate employees 65+

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Posted at 11:14 PM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-19 23:21:22-05

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — An effort is underway to make COVID-19 vaccines available to Pinellas County Schools employees 65 years and older.

The district said it’s partnered with the Department of Health in Pinellas County after the agency offered the vaccines to those meeting the age criteria. That could potentially impact a little more than 1,300 employees, including teachers, support staff, substitutes and contracted services employees.

“I think it just kind of shows our commitment to our employees and especially our employees who meet that criteria from the CDC who are most at risk for complications,” said Sara O’Toole, the managing officer of school health services for the district.

The district said a team worked throughout the weekend to build a registration system from scratch for employees to choose an appointment time for vaccination between Tuesday and Jan. 25.

This week, she said employees are then able to get shots in arms at the department of health locations. The health department says employees are required to bring their driver’s license and PCS identification.

“Sixty-five and up employees are the most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19 and so it was really important to be able to secure vaccines for them especially if they couldn’t access them by other means,” O’Toole said.

The Florida Education Association said it’s seeing other districts with similar efforts as well.

“I think it’s an effort that’s just starting. We’ve seen a handful of districts so far that have set up for educators over 65 to get the vaccine at school sites, or locations close to schools or we’ve seen them get a specific time to sign up for vaccines. Just something that makes it a little bit easier,” said FEA President Andrew Spar.

The Department of Health in Pasco County says there has been a discussion about partnering with the school district to vaccinate those 65 years and older and will be discussed in more detail later this week.

The Department of Health in Citrus County says it’s communicating with Citrus County Schools to develop a plan.

The department states: “…we are communicating with Citrus County Schools to develop a plan, similar to what we did for our health care personnel with direct patient contact, to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to school employees who are 65 years of age and older, as well as clinic staff who have direct patient contact. Right now, we are in the early stages of gathering demographic information from the school to better prepare for when more vaccines become available.”

But Spar is calling on the Governor to make vaccines available to all educators who would like one.

“It’s vital that our public schools are protected and that the health of the people who work there and our students are protected as well and we have seen a rise in COVID cases and we know that our public schools are essential to our community and to the economy,” Spar said.

Last month Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego, who is also the president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, wrote a letter to the governor asking the state to classify all school district employees as essential workers.

The letter stated in part: “..Prioritization for personnel who have direct student contact will allow continuity of operation with schools remaining open to serve the students, families, and communities of Florida. This will be increasingly important for school employees who are over the age of 65 or have underlying health conditions as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so that they can safely and confidently work in support of student achievement.”

RELATED: Pinellas County School leaders: Teachers need COVID-19 vaccine priority

“There are plenty of younger teachers who still have high risks,” said Brian Coleman.

Coleman, 64, said he’s teaching virtually from home due to his risks. He said he’s eager to get the vaccine himself, but says the school district's efforts to vaccinate those 65 and older is a good start.

“I think it’s a good start but I don’t think that they should have limits like on age,” he said.

Governor Ron Desantis reiterated the focus on vaccinating those 65 years and older Tuesday during a news conference announcing the expansion of Publix locations for vaccinations. He said close to 700,000 have received first doses.