The Wesley School, a private North Hollywood K through 8 academy where tuition runs from $28,460 to $32,020 a year, has skirted Los Angeles County Health Department protocols by getting its teachers vaccinated although they’re not yet eligible for the shots.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, the school let parents know via email Tuesday that it had taken advantage of a “special program” to have its instructors vaccinated, despite statements made by Health Director Barbara Ferrer that same day indicating it could be several weeks until L.A. County teachers under the age of 65 even qualify for shots.
“Many parents have expressed concern for the well-being of our teachers in these challenging times,” the school’s email said. “Therefore, we wanted to share that through a special program for essential workers and educators, all Wesley employees who wanted to be vaccinated were able to take advantage of an offer last week and received their first dose. As you can imagine, this is incredibly significant for our faculty and staff as we continue with our return to school rollout.”
In her remote meeting with school leaders Tuesday, Ferrer said that schools could arrange for groups of employees to be vaccinated in “closed pods” to help coordinate reopening plans, but she did not say that these pods would provide a short cut to inoculation eligibility. She also noted that only about 20 percent of people 65 and older have been vaccinated, though they’ve been receiving the shots for three weeks.
Wesley’s Interim Head of School Julie Galles said in a statement Wednesday, “We firmly believe that vaccinating educators is critical to returning students to in-person learning. We were therefore grateful to be contacted by a local hospital in January indicating that it was creating a list of teachers and other essential workers who wished to be vaccinated when the vaccine became available. When the hospital notified us that vaccine was available, some of our teachers scheduled appointments and received the first dose of the vaccine. We strongly urge public health officials to prioritize vaccination for all educators.”
When it learned of the Wesley School situation, the county health department told the Times, “All sites should be vaccinating healthcare workers and people 65-plus and if they have a significant quantity of expiring doses, they should consult with the Department of Public Health, on how best to ensure no wastage.”
Northridge Hospital Medical Center, which provided the Wesley School vaccinations, told CBS Los Angeles, “At Northridge Hospital Medical Center, it is our priority to administer COVID-19 vaccines as quickly and safely as possible. We initially vaccinated our frontline healthcare workers and then moved to vaccinate those in the community 65 and older. To date, Dignity Health has vaccinated tens of thousands of people. Recently, we had vaccines available and reached out to schools and daycare centers in the Valley to offer vaccinations to educators, targeting those 65 and older. We will continue to work with our state and county health officials to accelerate vaccine distribution through community events and our health care clinics. We look forward to the day when everyone will have the opportunity to receive a vaccine as supplies increase.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District, however, declined Northridge’s offer, turning instead to health officials for guidance.
“We sought clarification from the Los Angeles County Health Department,” the district said in a statement, “as to whether vaccine doses are only available to teachers over the age of 65, consistent with current guidelines, or if Northridge Hospital was operating under a different set of rules that would allow any teacher to be vaccinated regardless of age. The County confirmed that currently vaccines are only available for healthcare workers and those over 65 and thanked us for following proper procedures. The County is looking into this issue.”
Ferrer and Mayor Eric Garcetti both addressed Los Angeles’s vaccine shortage on Wednesday.
“In these times of vaccine scarcity,” Ferrer said in a press release, “we ask that everyone be mindful of waiting for your turn, and ensuring that those most vulnerable in each eligible group have access to the vaccine; this includes older people, frontline workers in these eligible sectors, and eligible residents and workers in the hardest hit communities.”
Announcing that the shortage would force five major inoculation sites, including Dodger Stadium, to close on Friday and Saturday, Garcetti said, “We’re vaccinating people faster than new vials are arriving here in Los Angeles. And I’m very concerned right now. I’m concerned as your mayor that our vaccine supply is uneven, it’s unpredictable and, too often, inequitable.”