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San Francisco Teachers Turned Away From COVID-19 Vaccinations Over Lack Of Access Codes

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- San Francisco teachers hoping to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot at the city's Moscone Center mass vaccination site were turned away Tuesday because they had not been provided an access code to receive a dose.

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen took to social media to alert officials to the teachers' dilemma.

"Just learned that no SF educator was vaccinated at Moscone today b/c the Governor forced Kaiser to hold all spots for educators who receive codes from the School District," she tweeted. "The State failed to give a single code to SFUSD!"

School officials said they expected to receive 5,000 unique codes on March 1 for teachers so they could receive expedited appointment slots to get the vaccine, but the district did not receive those codes until late on March 2 after learning they had been sent to the city.

On Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed said after a delay, the proper codes were being issued to teachers. School officials confirmed as of Wednesday that they had received 2,650 unique codes.

"Last night, we received our first vaccine priority access codes from the state for our educators who are in the classroom or who are heading back soon," Breed said in a release. "We've distributed this first set of codes to the San Francisco Unified School District for distribution to public school educators and support staff, including charter schools, that are slated to return to the classroom first."

"The San Francisco Department of Public Health is working directly with our parochial and private schools to make sure their teachers who are teaching in person have access."

Breed blamed the administrative structure of the San Francisco school system for the delay in getting the codes to the teachers.

"The state is providing prioritization access codes to county Offices of Education throughout California to then be distributed through local school districts and private and parochial schools to educators to sign up for vaccinations," she said. "Since San Francisco does not have a County Office of Education, the city has been seeking clarity on how these codes would be received locally, and last night the city finalized the distribution plan with the state."

She said once they receive their codes, teachers can return to the Moscone Center or any other city-operated vaccination site to receive a shot.

Breed also renewed her call for a timetable from the district and the teachers union as to when San Francisco public schools will finally reopen.

"We still need a clear timeline from the district on reopening," she said. "All of our kids need to be back in the classroom safely as soon as possible, and that includes working to get them back in five days a week for full days as soon as possible. We've lost so much this year, and we have to do everything we can to get that done."

SFUSD Dr. Vincent Matthews said the district was expecting 5,000 access codes instead of the 2,650 issued and said the vaccine delays would slow the reopening process now that San Francisco has moved into the Red Tier.

"We have an agreement with our employees to begin opening school sites once the city is in the Red Tier and staff have been vaccinated," he said. "Until we move to the Orange Tier, any delays in getting staff vaccinated will result in senseless delays in opening schools. The city has had the ability to vaccinate our educators for over a week and staff are still having trouble getting appointments. As we've repeatedly stated, we need the city to immediately prioritize access for our educators."

On Wednesday, workers' unions published an open letter to the school district and the district's chief labor negotiator for what it called the lack of implementation of a health and safety agreement passed by the city's Board of Education last week.

Vaccinating all teachers before returning to the classroom under the Red Tier is part of the health and safety agreement between the labor unions and SFUSD. There's still no agreement on the number of days and hours of instruction as well as other items which would prevent public schools from reopening even if all teachers get vaccinated.

"We've been advocating for a clear vaccination plan for educators and school staff for months now," said United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) President Susan Solomon in a press release. "We continue to watch as other counties, cities, and districts work together to streamline the vaccination process, and each week we continue to see a lack of movement here in San Francisco. If Sonoma, Contra Costa, Napa, Solano, San Mateo, and Marin all seem to be working together to figure this out I find it baffling that San Francisco can't. Our educators and school staff shouldn't have to monitor Twitter for updates about how they can access vaccines. It's beyond time to stop with the politicization and get shots in arms so that our schools can safely return to in-person instruction."

State health officials elevated teachers to the list of those eligible for vaccinations in California weeks ago.

While having teachers vaccinated is not one of the requirements of Gov. Gavin Newsom recently approved school reopening plan, he has said the state will set aside at least 10 percent of the doses needed to vaccinate teachers throughout the state, a minimum of 75,000 doses statewide.

Thursday and Friday are educator-exclusive days at the FEMA-supported mass vaccination sites in the state in Oakland and Los Angeles. But teachers need an access code to gain access to those sites.

No date has been given to reopen public schools in San Francisco, but vaccine codes will make it easier for some teachers to get shots. It's uncertain though whether these codes will speed up the reopening process.

"We don't know what's going on completely," said Breed. "Sometimes we're told one thing then it's something else.  So until they're straight with us, until we're able to get a date certain, and get things going, I'm not sure what's going to happen."

In comparison, more than 90% of Marin County schools are open, and the county is kicking off its vaccine "superpods" this week.

"We can cross-check at the site and to ensure that it's not just a free-for-all," said Marin County Superintendent Dr. Mary Jane Burke.

More than 25% of educators in Marin have already been vaccinated, and all are expected to be offered a shot by April.

"There's not a cookie-cutter approach to this. Communities need to figure out what is the right fit for them to be able to move forward" said Burke. "What is not negotiable is whether to move forward. We need to get kids back to school."

On Wednesday, San Francisco Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez called for city officials to implement a 'Superpod Day' like Marin County.

But with or without vaccines, there's a sense even from Mayor Breed these days that most San Francisco schools will remain shut down.

"We're at point where I'm not certain about this school year," said Breed.


Kenny Choi contributed to this report. 

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