Starting Monday, teachers and other school employees across Louisiana can for the first time contact local hospitals and pharmacies and schedule an appointment to get vaccinated against the deadly coronavirus.
School districts are trying to speed up the process — and doing so in ways that vary widely.
On Friday afternoon, the day after Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded eligibility to educators, East Baton Rouge Parish’s more than 5,500 school employees were directed to an online form where they can request vaccination at one of Our Lady of the Lake hospital network's three sites in the greater Baton Rouge area. OLOL schedulers will call employees back starting on Monday to set up appointments that will occur after school hours and on weekends.
East Baton Rouge employees, however, are not barred from signing up with other vaccine sites. But they will need proof when it comes time to get their first shot.
“(The Louisiana Department of Health) does ask that you have your ID or pay stub with you to provide that proof that you are a teacher or school staff,” said Kristen Gradney, a senior operations director with OLOL’s Children’s Health division.
OLOL is offering similar online signups for Ascension Parish public school employees, directing them to its hospital in Gonzales.
With severe winter weather still hobbling Louisiana’s vaccine effort, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that he will expand eligibility for …
Ascension on Friday also suggested that its employees try LDH’s vaccine website to set up an appointment, but added a note of caution: “Please note, several of these providers offer online signup that will not be available to educators until Monday.”
West Feliciana Parish, in partnership with its parish hospital, has already compiled a list of employees who want to be vaccinated and plans on Monday to start sending over a daily stream of them to St. Francisville hospital. Their date of birth is determining their place in line, with older employees getting vaccinated first.
“We decided we needed to use a hard criteria,” explained Superintendent Hollis Milton.
Livingston Parish Superintendent Joe Murphy on Friday sent employees a list of 15 locations in that parish where they can sign up for vaccinations. But Murphy’s also planning soon to turn the district’s SUMA Professional Development Center into an in-house vaccination site staffed by school nurses. He’s expecting to receive batches of vaccine sometime this coming week, but he’s not sure how much.
"You know, we give flu shots every year, so it's not like we're not used to doing this,” Murphy said last month.
In the Central school district, Superintendent Jason Fountain also hopes to do on-site vaccinations. But he said he’s still waiting on LDH to set it into motion.
“There is a convenience factor (with on-site vaccinations) if you are really trying to get the vaccine out to people,” Fountain said.
Fountain’s plan is to tap Central Pharmacy to do vaccinations at each of the district’s five school campuses. He likes the local pharmacy because it previously conducted on-site flu shots for Central employees.
The problem is Central Pharmacy has yet to be approved as a vaccine provider, which he’s hoping changes soon.
Like Americans in general, many educators, according to polls, are either opposed to getting vaccinated or hesitant about it. School districts across Louisiana have been surveying employees to gauge interest.
Milton in West Feliciana said he’s surveyed his employees twice. The first time, 50% of those responding said they were definitely getting vaccinated. The second time that increased to 68%.
Milton said he expects more employees will sign up as they see their colleagues successfully vaccinated.
“We want to be in school in person,” Milton said. “Vaccination makes it a safe climate for everybody.”
Gradney said in the weeks ahead OLOL plans to employ a mix of outreach and education to boost participation rates in Baton Rouge schools. For instance, at schools with few takers, she may send out mobile units to do on-site vaccinations.
But just as importantly, she would also dispatch to that school “to try to get an idea what that barrier area is.”