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Tampa Bay school districts to get coronavirus vaccines for older staff

Pinellas is starting its effort this week. Hillsborough and Pasco schools are working on similar arrangements.
The Clearwater Health Department is one of three sites where Pinellas County school employees age 65 and older can make appointments for a coronavirus vaccination over the next week.
The Clearwater Health Department is one of three sites where Pinellas County school employees age 65 and older can make appointments for a coronavirus vaccination over the next week. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 19, 2021

Efforts to get the coronavirus vaccine to Florida school employees have begun to pay off.

The Pinellas County health department on Tuesday began providing first round inoculations to all school district employees 65 years of age or older. The department has set aside appointment times for the district’s approximately 1,300 workers in that category at three sites — Clearwater, St. Petersburg and mid-county — through Jan. 25.

“We’re very excited about partnering with the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County to provide all of our employees over 65 a free coronavirus vaccination,” schools superintendent Mike Grego said.

More than 400 school staff signed up for a time on the first day, Grego said. As others register, he said, they will be able to attend even if their appointment conflicts with work. Registrations go through the district, to avoid getting caught up in the larger surge.

“We’ll work around whatever the schedule is,” Grego said. “We want anyone who wants to get vaccinated to be able to do that.”

Other area school districts are working on similar arrangements.

Pasco County schools deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said he had been in contact with the local health department Tuesday afternoon to discuss how it can secure vaccines for the district’s oldest employees.

The district has just under 800 employees over 65, including substitutes and temporary workers. The areas with the largest concentration of older workers include food service and bus transportation.

If the health department agrees, the district is proposing to handle the distribution once the vaccinations become available.

“We can do it here,” Gadd said. “We have six clinics and three testing sites, so we can make it happen.”

He expected to have further conversations with local health department director Mike Napier, as soon as Wednesday, to discuss a formal arrangement. “We’re working on it diligently.”

The Hillsborough County school district also is working with community partners to get vaccinations for its older employees, spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. No details were available.

For weeks, school and teacher leaders have implored state officials to prioritize education employees who have regular contact with students for the vaccines. They have contended that if the state wants to keep schools open, it should do more to protect the teachers and other staff who make it possible.

“We want to keep our teacher safe. We want to keep them healthy and in front of our students,” Pinellas School Board chairwoman Carol Cook said.

Related: Support builds for Florida teachers to get vaccinated sooner

Gov. Ron DeSantis has insisted that the state’s most senior residents, along with health care professionals, go to the front of the line as they are most at risk of harm from the virus.

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Arrangements such as the ones that these local school districts, along with others around Florida, have reached represent a place where both goals can be met.

Grego said he was hopeful that, as more vaccinations become available, the district will be able to expand its effort to include younger employees, perhaps starting with those who have underlying health issues or pre-existing conditions.

School nurses already had been included in the model, he said, under the health worker provisions.