Whidbey Island teachers have already begun the process of getting vaccinated after Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that they are now eligible for a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The governor’s announcement came after President Joe Biden directed that all states must prioritize educators, school staff and licensed childcare providers for the vaccine. Biden said they should all receive at least one shot by the end of March.
Inslee made the group immediately eligible along with those already in Phase 1B1 of the state’s vaccination program.
The governor said educators will be able to schedule appointments with existing providers and pharmacies in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.
State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said his office is working with Kaiser Permanente to set up vaccine sites for educators.
Oak Harbor Public School Communications Officer Conor Laffey said school district staff were very encouraged by the announcement.
“Some reported already getting them today and others have appointments for the near future,” he said Thursday.
He added that the school district was also in contact with local vendors to set up a temporary, on-site vaccine clinic to help employees receive their first dose.
South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia also said staff were grateful and some had already received shots.
Coupeville Schools Superintendent Steve King echoed the others’ sentiments and said the school district was helping employees find vaccines.
Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said there are two ways to distribute vaccines — through the state supply chain, which includes five providers in Island County, and the federal program, which includes national chain pharmacies.
Higman said staff at the state Department of Health told him there was a plan to distribute 281,000 doses in the state this month specifically for people working in childcare and education sectors.
“So if that message is true and real, it should not have individuals that qualify as the 1B1 competing against educators for vaccines because they’ll be seeking vaccines in different places,” Higman said.
Although the supply should be ramping up soon, he said getting the shots into people’s arms will be another challenge.
Those already part of the Phase 1B1 groups — which includes adults over the age of 65 and adults over the age of 50 in multigenerational households — have already had a difficult time receiving a dose on the island. Scheduling and delayed appointments have been a source of frustration for many.
Nicole Donovan, Aging and Disability Resources Program director for Island Senior Resources, was also surprised by Tuesday’s announcement.
“It feels like there are still a fair number of our community that have had an exceedingly complex challenge in getting vaccinated,” Donovan said.
She said many seniors don’t have the ability to navigate the technology to make an appointment.
“That’s where we’ve really tried to step in and help the community as much as possible,” she said, and encouraged friends, family and neighbors to check on those who may need help.
Donovan said the organization is also looking for volunteers to drive seniors to appointments. More information can be found on https://senior-resources.org.
With vaccine supply on the rise, Donovan said she hoped those still waiting for a dose and those now eligible will be able to receive them.
“Hopefully it will be a smooth process,” she said.