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Johnson County is gearing up to start vaccinations of individuals who fall in the first tier of Phase 2 — including staff at K-12 schools and licensed childcare providers.
Prioritizing educators in the next phase is an important first step for the community to begin to turn to some sense of normalcy, said Linda Sieck, president of the Shawnee Mission School District’s National Education Association chapter.
“NEA SM believes the only way to fully open our schools is for staff to be vaccinated,” Sieck told the Post via email.
This group of people, as well as other critical infrastructure workers — including police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers and restaurant and bar employees — are considered generally high-risk for contracting COVID-19, but also “necessary to maintain systems, assets, and activities that are vital to the state security, the economy or public health,” Gov. Laura Kelly said in a press release last week.
Educators to be vaccinated through school clinics
Elizabeth Holzschuh, director of epidemiology for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said vaccine clinics for educators and people who work in K-12 schools will be conducted primarily through the schools that employ them.
The decision about who is prioritized in each school — whether it be teachers, custodians or paraprofessionals — will be left to the discretion of each school or school district.
Children’s Mercy Hospital will also be helping vaccinate school employees and licensed childcare providers as part of a partnership with JCDHE.
As for the Shawnee Mission School District, Sieck hopes for a plan to vaccinate educators that takes into account their limited time during normal clinic hours. Teachers and other school employees cannot simply leave in the middle of the day to receive a vaccine and then do the same again a few weeks later for a second dose.
Phase 2 vaccinations could start as early as Tuesday
As vaccines become available for individuals in Tier 1 of Phase 2, JCDHE will alert people who registered their interest through the county’s survey system.
Filling out the survey will not reserve a spot in line for the vaccine, said Sanmi Areola, Ph.D, the county’s health director. He said, though, that filling out the survey will help the county gauge how distribution will need to work in each tier.
Individuals who qualify for Phase 2 after filling out the survey fully will receive information from the health department about signing up for the vaccine and booking an appointment.
People who have not can complete the survey here.
As of Thursday, upwards of 45,000 people had already completed the survey, said Holzschuh.
If all goes according to plan, vaccination in Phase 2 could begin in Johnson County as soon as Tuesday.
The county’s Tier 1 group within Phase 2prioritizes:
anyone left from Phase 1 who is unvaccinated
people 65 and older
staff in K-12 schools, including teachers, custodians and bus drivers
staff at licensed childcare providers
emergency service workers, like police officers and firefighters
grocery store and food service employees
food processing plant workers, like meat packing facilities
For information about later tiers in 2, click here.
The timeline moving forward remains uncertain on the later tiers in Phase 2 and subsequent phases, but Areola said it could take months.
“We may not be sprinting, but we are walking towards our goal,” Areola said, during the JoCo on the Go podcast posted last week.
‘Patience is absolutely necessary’
The tier system Johnson County plans to use is partially to accommodate the needs of the county, but also to help with distribution issues stemming from demand.
“It’s a multipronged approach that we’re using to ensure we do this as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible,” Areola said.
In all, Areola estimates that 150,000 people — or about a third of the county’s population — could be eligible for the second phase in Johnson County, but the first shipment from the state for the next phase includes around 6,825 doses.
That’s simply not enough to go around.
“That’s going to take us a while to get through when you factor in the availability of vaccine,” Areola said. “Patience is absolutely necessary.”