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Baltimore-area school districts say they’re making progress vaccinating teachers, but don’t know how many educators still need shots

Baltimore-area school districts say that most teachers who have requested a COVID-19 vaccine have been inoculated or scheduled an appointment to do so, but that it’s difficult to know how many teachers have yet to receive — or don’t want — a vaccine.

School system officials say thousands of employees have not responded to their offers of help to get shots as federal, state and county officials emphasize educator vaccinations.

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Last week thousands of educators in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties got a first dose through health department clinics and in schools. But because teachers and staff members don’t have to say whether they have been vaccinated, school officials believe that their official count doesn’t include those who have gotten vaccinated at mass vaccination centers, grocery stores and pharmacies.

The virus is more likely to spread between adults in a school building than from students to the adults, according to recent studies. That means how many adults in a building are vaccinated may determine how safe teachers feel returning to the classroom this month and next.

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In Anne Arundel County, which set up a vaccination clinic at Severna Park High School, about 7,000 employees now have been vaccinated — or nearly everyone who requested the shots. But the system employs 14,700 employees and only about 8,000 educators sought a vaccination through the county school system, said Bob Mosier, a spokesman.

In Harford County, 47% of the 4,679 educators who sought a vaccine through county channels have gotten a first dose and another 21% have booked appointments, according to county health officials.

In Carroll County, 66% of the district’s 4,298 staff members have been vaccinated.

There is a disparity in vaccination levels between rural and suburban counties. If you are a teacher in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, you had quick access to a COVID-19 vaccination. Every public school staff member in that county who sought a vaccination has gotten one.

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But if you teach in Baltimore County, you may not be so lucky. County school officials say that of the system’s 16,200 full-time staff, about 5,500 have been vaccinated in clinics designated for public school staff. Another 1,000 educators were expected to get shots over the weekend, which would mean at least 40% are vaccinated, said Charles Herndon, a system spokesman.

Based on declining interest in surveys, the county estimates about up to another 5,000 employees may have received the vaccine through other venues, Herndon said.

“It continues to be a concern,” said Cindy Sexton, the president of the Baltimore County teachers union. “Our educators want to be vaccinated as another layer of safety before going back into buildings. They are not being provided that opportunity.”

While teachers and other staff who interact with students understand that vaccine is precious, Sexton said educators who are entering buildings need to be vaccinated “in a more timely fashion.”

Just how many Baltimore County teachers are vaccinated is unclear because the district doesn’t know who may have been able to get vaccinated through other channels. Sexton said the union is in the process of surveying 11,000 teachers and other staff about whether they have been vaccinated. Of the 3,000 who have responded to the survey about 62% reported they have been vaccinated.

Sexton said there should be more vaccination clinics dedicated solely for educators, such as one March 7 for public and private school teachers at the state fairgrounds in Timonium. About 1,000 public school educators were vaccinated that day.

The city school system, working with Johns Hopkins Medicine, the University of Maryland Medical System and the city health department, has offered all of its employees a chance to get vaccinated. With more vaccine becoming available last week, the city schools Chief of Human Capital Jeremy Grant-Skinner said there are now only a few hundred employees who have requested an appointment who don’t yet have one.

About 4,500 of 11,000 employees have gotten vaccinated through the city school partners, and another 1,000 have replied saying they received a vaccine on their own, Grant-Skinner said. Missing in the data is how many staff have been vaccinated but haven’t told the school system they found a dose themselves, he said.

The employees who have been vaccinated represent a cross section of the system, he said, adding that school officials feel they have been able to provide equal access to vaccinations.

While there appears to be some hesitancy among staff to get the vaccine, he said, “there are some people who have had the opportunity for a couple of months now who have chosen to to sign up.” About 10% of employees offered the vaccine appointments responded that they preferred not to be vaccinated at the time, so the remainder may have gotten the shots elsewhere.

“We hope so because we want everyone to get vaccinated, although it is their choice,” Grant-Skinner said.

Corey Gaber, a Baltimore Teachers Union leader, said teachers believe there is a difference between having the opportunity to get an appointment and being fully vaccinated.

“It remains the case that tons of members want the vaccine and are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to actually get the vaccine, even more so now that many of them are being mandated back to in-person programming,” Gaber said.

The addition of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in recent days appears to have alleviated the supply problem, he said.

Last week, state education officials released a chart with estimates of how many teachers in each county had been vaccinated, which they said was based on information from the local districts. But a number of districts said the chart did not provide accurate data for their county.

Herndon, the Baltimore County school spokesman, said the state’s chart isn’t an accurate representation of how the vaccine rollout has gone for school systems.

“First, school systems such as BCPS have no control over how much of the vaccine they receive, so to imply that school systems are solely responsible for the percentage of educators vaccinated is false,” he said.

And contrasting small school systems with a few hundred employees to large school systems with many thousands of educators who are requesting doses amid constrained supply is unfair, he said

Large suburban counties have not received as many doses per person as the state’s smaller, rural counties, according to state data.

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