Some teachers at a Los Angeles private school were able to get Covid-19 vaccines despite not meeting the vaccine eligibility requirements set by the county health department.
The Wesley School – a K-8 private school in North Hollywood where tuition ranges from about $28,000 to $32,000 a year – said in a statement to CNN it was contacted by a hospital in January “indicating that it was creating a list of teachers and other essential workers who wished to be vaccinated when the vaccine became available.” The school did not say which hospital reached out.
“When the hospital notified us that vaccine was available, some of our teachers scheduled appointments and received the first dose of the vaccine,” the statement said, adding, “We strongly urge public health officials to prioritize vaccination for all educators.” The school did not say which hospital reached out.
News of the vaccinations for Wesley School employees was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, which was told by Interim School Head Julie Galles that the doses were provided by Northridge Hospital.
Childcare and education workers as a category do not yet qualify for the vaccine, per Los Angeles County vaccine eligibility guidelines, which currently limit inoculations to health care workers, staff and residents at long-term care facilities and people 65 and older.
That guidance estimates educators could be eligible in March under Phase 1B. Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said this week teachers could expect to be eligible in the next two or three weeks.
In the meantime, the health department said in a statement to CNN Thursday, “All sites should be vaccinating health care workers and people 65+ and if they have a significant quantity of expiring doses, they should consult with the Department of Public Health, on how best to ensure no wastage.”
Public school district turned down offer
The news comes as local vaccination sites have been forced to temporarily close or limit vaccine appointments to second doses only due to a shortage of supply.
A spokesperson for the county health department told CNN the “health system that provided these vaccinations did not receive the vaccines from the County of Los Angeles,” but from the state of California.
“The County Department of Public Health has reported this incident to the state, and has informed the provider that this action violates the tier system now in place in L.A. County, under which only healthcare providers and people 65+ are being vaccinated. We have been assured there will not be a repeat of this violation.”
In a statement to CNN Friday, Northridge Hospital Medical Center acknowledged it reached out to “several public and private schools in the area, including daycare centers, and law enforcement agencies, inviting employees and teachers” to receive the vaccine on February 2.
The hospital had reached out after initially limiting its vaccinations to its frontline health care workers and community members age 65 and older.
In a second statement to CNN, Northridge Hospital acknowledged that the Wesley School was among the institutions that were invited to receive vaccinations at their hospital, along with public elementary schools and law enforcement groups.
The hospital described the move as part of a “good-faith effort,” saying it had believed, based on “preliminary reports,” that the vaccination of individuals under Phase 1B would begin on the first of February.
“We realize that it was premature to schedule these appointments for individuals in group 1B before the county reached that point in its prioritization,” the statement said, adding those appointments should have been canceled when it was clear the county would not take that step.
“We regret that these vaccinations did not align with the county’s vaccine prioritization approach,” the statement said. “We will continue to stay in close contact with the County Department of Public Health as we continue to vaccinate those that are eligible.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District – where students have been learning remotely since last March – said in a statement on Twitter it declined an offer of 100 vaccination slots from Northridge Hospital after consulting county health officials.
“We asked for guidance from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health which confirmed the rules allow vaccinations to be offered only to individuals ages 65 or older and certain other categories of people,” it said.
“Los Angeles Unified elected not to participate as it will be involved only in vaccination efforts which are run in accordance with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health rules,” the school district’s statement said.
Los Angeles faces vaccine supply shortage
Due to a shortage of vaccine supply, the city of Los Angeles planned to temporarily close five vaccination sites on Friday, including one at Dodger Stadium, after receiving just 16,000 new doses this week. Officials said the city has been administering about 13,000 doses a day.
But they were forced to close a day early on Thursday after running out of vaccine doses “earlier than expected,” per a spokesperson for the mayor. All five sites will now be closed until Tuesday or Wednesday.
But the confusion over whether or not teachers are eligible isn’t limited to this Los Angeles community. Cities and towns across the country are working to navigate their own vaccine guidance, which often varies by locality, balancing the scarcity of the vaccine with the needs and priorities of their communities, especially when it comes to schools and teachers.
Chicago Public Schools recently announced it would offer vaccines to staff who live in medically vulnerable households beginning this week as part of an agreement with the teachers’ union to resume in-person learning. The deal also included a goal of vaccinating 1,500 CPS employees each week moving forward at the district’s own vaccination sites.
Compare that to Georgia, where the state public health department recently issued a 6-month suspension on a rural medical center after it learned the medical center had been vaccinating local public school staff who were not eligible under the state’s Phase 1A+.
Some or all teachers are eligible for inoculations, based on their occupation, in more than half of US states and Washington, DC – though many still face the issue of availability.
CNN’s Stella Chan contributed to this report.