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Public, private schools awaiting vaccine supply

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Teachers and other on-site school staff are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and the number of willing employees from each school in Lincoln Parish has been included in Northern Louisiana Medical Center’s latest order to the state for more doses of the immunization.

School staff may be able to start scheduling vaccination appointments with the hospital as early as next week, officials said, but there likely won’t be enough supply for everyone in one round. In the meantime, school employees may also seek appointments through other providers.

Several weeks ago, before Gov. John Bel Edwards’ announcement last week that K-12 and daycare employees would be eligible for the vaccine starting Monday, parish Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Kip Franklin and Health Hut Medical Director Dr. Jacquelyn White compiled lists from every public, private and charter K-12 school and daycare center in the parish showing how many employees were interested in being vaccinated.

Through her role at the Lincoln Health Foundation, White serves as medical liaison for the public school system. She combined the lists of staff compiled by each public-school nurse with lists gathered by Franklin from the private and charter schools and passed it all on to NLMC.

“Numbers and names were taken, and NLMC has been gracious to administer these shots when it came time through the state,” White said. “Hopefully in the next week or so, we can start administering those.”

The public school district has reported about 54% of staff at all sites are willing to be immunized. Lincoln Preparatory School reports about the same, at around 55%. Montessori School of Ruston stands at about 70%. Cedar Creek School also reported its numbers to Franklin’s office but said it could not make them public.

Those numbers were added to the hospital’s latest order of doses to the state this week, along with all other eligible people on the hospital’s list. But there’s no guarantee how much supply will actually be sent each round.

“The only limiting factor is how many shots are given to the hospital,” White said.

Even though they’ve been added to that list, teachers and other school employees can still make other arrangements to be vaccinated if possible.

“My advice with my employees was if they had a chance to get it locally and privately, go ahead and do that now that they’re eligible,” Montessori Head of School Amanda Walker said.

Some schools have already made other plans. Primary Health Services Center in Grambling, which is located next to Lincoln Prep’s temporary school site, already provides the school with nursing services and is now a vaccine provider. So the school has partnered with PHSC to schedule vaccination appointments for its staff.

“They have some (doses) already,” Lincoln Prep Executive Director Gordan Ford said. “They had appointments out through the end of this week, so our staff will be able to have appointments starting next week. Since we’re kind of colocated with them, our staff will also be able to take vaccines on a no-show basis when they have folks that don’t show up (in the meantime).”

Ford said he hopes the final vaccination tally for his staff ends up higher than the initial 55% on their survey.

“We’re trying to push for more,” he said. “My wife’s a physician, so she’s already had it. I made sure (school employees) all knew that, and that there weren’t any side effects. We’ve been talking to folks and trying to get people to be more comfortable taking it.”

Ford said while having employees vaccinated wouldn’t mean safety measures could immediately be removed, it would still enhance the safety of the vaccinated individuals, and thereby the safety of the school.

“What we’re seeing in our school, like most other schools, is not spread in the school — we’re seeing community spread being brought into the school,” he said. “So to the extent that our folks can get vaccinated and we can lower the community spread, I think it makes it even less likely that we’ll have some kind of outbreak within the school.”

Walker agreed that peace of mind was a key factor in getting at least part of her staff vaccinated.

“If we find out that somebody in our classroom had been exposed, the teacher wouldn’t have to be as concerned that there was imminent danger,” she said.

Franklin said he expects the influx of vaccine doses to behave similarly to the personal protective equipment (PPE) situation when the pandemic began last year: a bottleneck for resources at first, with greater abundance later.

“We had no PPE to amount to anything,” he said. “We were piecemealing the stuff. Then as time went on, PPE got more abundant in supply. It’s like the doors opened up, and it just started pouring in. I think we’re going to start seeing that eventually as more vaccine is produced and pushed out.”