Los Angeles County officials laid out a complex formula Wednesday for doling out limited COVID-19 vaccinations to teachers and child care workers when they become eligible for the shots on Monday, putting further pressure on already limited vaccine supplies.
Shots on Monday will also be made available to workers in the food and agriculture sector, and to those in law enforcement and emergency services. Those sectors and the education workers combine to make up roughly 1.7 million people who will be eligible for vaccine appointments starting Monday.
But with a major push to resume in-person instruction -- and some district officials and teachers' unions pushing for workers to be vaccinated before returning to campuses -- efforts to administer doses to education workers will be a focal point of the expanded vaccine drive.
"We are really excited that school district employees have been prioritized and that their day is coming soon,'' said Debra Duardo, county superintendent of schools. "... We know we don't have enough supply to vaccinate everybody all at once, so we wanted to make sure we had an equitable process. This is a really important step in supporting the safe return to in-person instruction in our communities hit hardest by the pandemic. Our plans support all of our districts as they work with their labor partners to safely reopen campuses."
Gov. Gavin Newsom previously mandated that 10% of all vaccine supplies received in the state be earmarked for teachers, child care and other school staff.
Under the distribution plan announced by the county Wednesday, 9% of the doses available for the education sector in the county will be directed to private schools, based on the overall percent of students they serve.
The 80 public school districts in the county -- excluding districts in Long Beach and Pasadena, which have their own health departments -- will be divided into five groups.
"The five groups of districts are allocated percentages of available vaccine doses based on student enrollment, as well as factors related to equity and risk of exposure," Duardo said. "This plan ensures that each school district receives a weekly allocation of doses, so everybody will get a base.''
The "equity" metric will adjust the allocations based on the percent of students in each group living in poverty -- calculated by the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches -- along with the COVID case rate in each community and whether schools have already been providing in-person services for special-needs students.
When dose allocations are determined for each group, the vaccine will be distributed to providers that have made arrangements with each individual district, such as hospitals, clinics or pharmacies, where teachers and staff can be vaccinated. Three districts in the county -- Los Angeles Unified, Glendora and Culver City -- have created their own in-house vaccine-administration systems.
County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the county's large-scale vaccination sites will also be holding dedicated appointments for independent and private school workers on Sundays, and for child care workers on Saturdays. Children's Hospital Los Angeles will also have a dedicated vaccine site for child care workers.
Workers in all sectors, including education, can also make appointments the traditional way through the vaccinatelacounty.com website.
The continued uncertainty of the county's overall vaccine supply each week makes it difficult to predict how long it will take to get all school workers vaccinated. Ferrer noted that as of Wednesday, the county still hasn't been told how many doses it will be receiving next week.
When the county receives its weekly allocation -- which has been averaging about 200,000 to 220,000 doses -- health officials immediately allocate a set amount needed to provide second doses for people who are due for their second shot.
Ferrer said the education sector will likely receive 25% to 29% of the county's remaining allocation for first doses.
The distribution formula being used to divide up the vaccines for education workers means LAUSD, based sheerly on its size, will likely receive about 40% of the available doses. Superintendent Austin Beutner has said the district would need to vaccinate about 25,000 people to reopen its elementary schools for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth-grade.
Ferrer said it's obviously ``highly unlikely'' LAUSD would be allocated that many doses immediately, based on the county's limited weekly allotment.
"But will it (LAUSD's allotment) be thousands of doses? Yes, highly likely,'' she said. "I think LAUSD, like all of the school districts, will be able to get a good start on vaccinating, but it will take some weeks."
She also offered a reminder that the current vaccines require two doses separated by three to four weeks, so it will be a long time for school workers to be fully vaccinated.
The 1.7 million overall workers becoming eligible for shots Monday will join roughly 700,000 county residents aged 65 and over who are already eligible but haven't received a dose yet, along with many health care workers who have not yet been vaccinated.
The state has authorized shots beginning March 15 for anyone aged 16 and over with an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk for severe illness or death from COVID. Ferrer said it's still unclear if the county will actually expand eligibility to that group on March 15. She said the county is waiting for more details from the state about how that expansion will work, and whether the county can realistically offer those shots given continued limited vaccine supply.
"A lot really depends on what that rollout needs to looks like,'' she said. "We're always anxious to again expand eligibility, particularly if you have more doses. But you have to do it in a way that makes sense.''