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Health departments and hospitals move quickly to offer Baltimore-area teachers access to COVID vaccine

City schoolteacher Mark Miazga got his first shot of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine from the city health department’s clinic Monday with what he described as fast, efficient and friendly service.

“I was so excited to get the shot,” Miazga said. “I definitely want to go back into the building and teach my students.”

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With a serious heart condition, he said he doesn’t want to return until he is fully vaccinated which will be on March 8, just a week later than he has been ordered back. So, he said, he will take sick days or ask for a delay.

The first surge of vaccinations for teachers and school staff began late last week and is accelerating this week in the Baltimore region, with thousands of staff taking time off from teaching to rush to vaccination centers at hospitals and health departments for their first shots. The state officially opened up COVID-19 vaccinations to Phase 1B — including teachers and those 75 or older — last week.

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Hundreds of private and Catholic school teachers and staff already got their first shot last week at Mercy Hospital and the Baltimore County health department’s clinic at the Timonium Fair Grounds. They include 50 staffers at Calvert Hall, a Towson Catholic school, and about 70% of the staff at Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore, according to school officials.

Meanwhile, nearly half of the 10,000 Baltimore City school employees have been invited this week to make a vaccination appointment.

Although only 1,600 city school staff had signed up to get their first shot by Monday afternoon, the numbers of those taking advantage of the opportunity was growing by hundreds each day. At least 1,200 city public school staff are expected to get the vaccine this week and early next week.

Johns Hopkins Hospital has offered the city schools some 4,300 slots and the University of Maryland Medical System is offering 392 slots this week.

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As educators are vaccinated “you are accelerating the pace of people willing to work in the buildings,” said Corey Gaber, a vice president of the Baltimore Teachers Union’s executive board.

The union maintains that teachers should not be forced back into buildings until they have been fully vaccinated and a number of other criteria have been met.

The ramped-up vaccination effort comes as Gov. Larry Hogan has threatened school district leaders with punitive measures if they do not begin some in-person classes by March 1. Before Hogan’s announcement last week, city schools chief Sonja Santelises had announced a return to in-person classes for students in kindergarten through second grade on Feb. 16, and a return for all remaining elementary, ninth and 12th grade students on March 1.

Private school educators also were offered the vaccine last week, with Gilman, Loyola Blakefield, Boys’ Latin, Roland Park Country, and Calvert Hall getting shots at either Mercy Medical Center or the county health department. Other area private schools did not respond to requests for information.

Mercy is working with about 15 schools to distribute vaccinations, although hospital officials declined to say how many doses it had received or distributed. And Mercy already has vaccinated or scheduled vaccinations this week for about 100 teachers from eight city public schools, officials said.

Kathy Dalrymple, the school nurse at Calvert Hall, said Monday that more than 50 staffers there received vaccines at Mercy last week. The Maryland Department of Health also sent directions Jan. 15 to Dalrymple to secure vaccines for Calvert Hall staff.

“I think the reality is that educators across the country are looking to be vaccinated because they think it is important for our kids to be in school,” said Stephanie McLoughlin, director of communications for Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore.

The school has had in-person instruction, in some form, since September. About 70% of the staff had received a first vaccination as of Monday, McLoughlin said.

Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch said he sent invitations to 4,000 public and private educators last week, although they were competing for slots with those 75 years and older.

The first health department vaccinations for school employees were offered between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday at the Timonium Fairgrounds. Baltimore County school spokesman Charles Herndon said 609 school staff were vaccinated with their first dose.

One private schoolteacher — who got a shot at 9:16 a.m. Friday — was seventh grade English teacher Sally Waller.

“I am very happy to be vaccinated,” said Waller, who is teaching entirely in-person at Loyola Blakefield. “Loyola has done a very good job of setting up the classroom and how we interact, but still the virus has some terrifying consequences.

“I have been happy to go back. It is better for me and it is better for the students,” she said, acknowledging she worries about getting the virus when she is at home after a busy day of teaching.

Branch said the health department is using up all of the vaccine it receives within days of getting it, and it has the capacity to inoculate 700 people an hour just at the Timonium Fairground clinic. This week’s supply is 7,600 shots, as well as additional second doses.

“Right now people are on edge,” Branch said. “They want it right now. I feel bad for them. We don’t have the supply.”

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