July 7, 2022


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Beutner presses L.A. schools to be COVID-19 vaccine centers

Los Angeles schools Supt. Austin Beutner on Monday pressed for using schools as COVID-19 vaccination centers, saying his 900 campuses are “ready to go” — a move that could speed up the reopening of in-person classes for students.

The Los Angeles Unified School District’s involvement in vaccine distribution could have the benefit of getting doses for teachers more quickly. As things stand, vaccines may be widely available for L.A. teachers in February. Beutner noted that teachers in other areas — including New York and Riverside — are already getting vaccinated. Others, including teachers in Long Beach, will be soon.

Students are unlikely to be immunized for some time because the vaccines have yet to be determined safe for children.

Beutner made his case to include schools in the vaccination effort as the COVID-19 pandemic courses through the county and as state and county officials grapple with a confusing and chaotic vaccine rollout amid growing concerns about the supply.

“Schools which are part of Los Angeles Unified are uniquely situated — and uniquely qualified — to help in the vaccination effort,” Beutner wrote in a Monday letter to Dr. Mark Ghaly, who heads the state’s Health and Human Services Agency, and to Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

City and county officials have struggled to ramp up vaccination infrastructure. Supplies have been limited and even available doses aren’t being distributed as quickly as hoped. There’s talk of operating Dodger Stadium, which has become a massive drive-through vaccine clinic, as much as 24 hours a day, if the appropriate staffing can be found.

In an interview, Beutner said the district has been involved in ongoing discussions with state and county officials, but things “are not moving as quickly as we’d like.”

Beutner sought to bring public pressure to bear through the letter, which he released publicly, and in his regular prerecorded Monday broadcast.

“So many communities in the Greater Los Angeles area lack access to healthcare,” Beutner told The Times. “And if we don’t bring healthcare to people, they’re going to continue to lack access to healthcare, including vaccinations. And one of the virtues of schools being located in every neighborhood, every community in the areas we serve, is that we can bring access to where people are.

“Anywhere that access can be safely provided in any trusted location, our health authorities should be taking advantage of — whether it’s a school, a library, any fire station, the parking lot of a stadium, wherever that might be.”

In a briefing of school leaders this month, Ferrer expressed some skepticism about using campuses. She noted that people receiving shots would need to be monitored and potentially treated for adverse reactions as well as tracked for their follow-up shot in the two-dose treatment.

Beutner said the district is well prepared for such issues. He noted that the nation’s second-largest school system has 12 campus-based clinics already licensed to provide vaccinations. In addition, he said, the district employs more than 450 registered nurses and 120 licensed vocational nurses, “all of whom can administer the vaccine and attend to those who may have an adverse reaction to the vaccine,” he said in his broadcast.

Moreover, he said, the district is prepared to scale up further because “Anthem Blue Cross and Health Net … have both committed to provide additional clinicians to support a school-based vaccination effort.”

To manage traffic, the district could rely on 1,400 people who are involved in food distribution and school-based coronavirus testing. The tracking structure developed for testing could carry over to a vaccine effort, Beutner said.

In the best-case scenario, teachers would be vaccinated by the time it is possible to reopen campuses in L.A. County, Beutner said.

The district is in negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles over what a return to campus would look like. It’s possible that teachers and their union leaders will resist coming back unless they first are able to be vaccinated.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised school districts extra funding to reopen — and regular testing is part of his plan. Newsom also has prioritized the vaccination of teachers, but he hasn’t proposed making it a prerequisite for a return to campus.