Educators and school staff now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine but delays expected

Albany Med Director of Pharmacy Anthony DiSpirito readies a vaccine dose last month.

Albany Med Director of Pharmacy Anthony DiSpirito readies a vaccine dose last month.

Teachers and school staff on Monday became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in New York, but delays and errors accompanied Monday’s rollout of a new online portal to sign up for vaccines.

Some school districts had to correct the record Monday after school buildings were wrongly listed as vaccination sites and educators complained about an inability to schedule appointments using the online system.

Schenectady High School and Maple Avenue Middle School were both wrongly listed as vaccination sites on the state’s vaccination website.

Listed under the 1B priority list, which also includes first responders, teachers and all school-based staff are eligible to sign up for a vaccination appointment, but it may still be a while for many educators to schedule an appointment.

School districts and teachers union organizations with statewide reach are working to help facilitate delivery of the vaccine – with some districts exploring whether its possible to become a vaccine site for staff – but those efforts are still in the works.

Schenectady interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak in an email to district staff Monday said the county health department was “overwhelmed with phone calls from the community and school staff inquiring about the vaccine” and surprised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement that people listed as 1B would be eligible this week. Bochniak’s update to staff indicated the county health agency did not have the supply to immediately schedule more vaccine appointments.

Bochniak said district officials were working with the county health agency to “potentially serve as a distribution site for staff,” bolding and underlining “potentially” for emphasis and noting it could be weeks or months before they were able to iron out the details.

“While we have started these conversations and initial planning, it could be serveral weeks or months before the county has the vaccines available to transfer to us,” Bochniak wrote in the update to staff. “Both parties are willing, we just don’t know if it will be feasible, but we will keep trying.”

Albany Medical Center President and CEO Dennis McKenna, who also leads the Capital Region Vaccine Network, in a statement Monday said the 1B population would be able to begin scheduling vaccine appointments at 4 p.m. on Monday, while also urging residents to remain patient as the vaccine process moves forward.

“Please understand that patience is needed at this time as the supply of vaccine is still limited,” McKenna said in the statement. “We urge continued patience, and echo the governor’s statement that this process is expected to take several months.”

Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, on Monday said she expected more information about how teachers should get vaccinated in the coming days and weeks, noting New York State United Teachers, a statewide union organization, was working with state health officials to help facilitate vaccination of the hundreds of thousands of school employees across the state. She said the initial rollout of the vaccines to educators has caused confusion and frustration among educators, but like others she urged patience as more information is likely to emerge.

“There is quite a bit of frustration,” she said Monday. “I’m just reassuring people that as soon as we information, we will get it out to people, but there’s not a lot of information.”

Critics of Gov. Andrew Cuomo also seized on difficulties with the vaccination rollout in response to his State of the State address Monday. State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, after Cuomo’s speech said his constituents want to know when the vaccine will be available for themselves and loved ones

“Unfortunately, in this effort, the Cuomo Administration has over-promised and under-delivered in the race against time to stop the spread of the virus,” Tedisco said in a statement Monday. “The administration’s top priority must be to get the vaccine supplies they currently have distributed to the public as soon as possible. This effort should be an all-hands-on-deck push to vaccinate as many people as quickly as vaccine supplies arrive from the federal government.”

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