School employees within the Prince William Health District will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations Jan. 30, district director Alison Ansher said Tuesday.
Speaking just hours before the Prince William School Board was scheduled to meet to discuss the district's return-to-school plan, Ansher told the Prince William Board of County Supervisors that teachers would be vaccinated through Inova Health System rather than the public health district. Registration for vaccination appointments will open Jan. 28, she said. Time slots will be reserved for teachers from the health district only; private and public school staff from Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park school divisions will be eligible to sign up starting that day.
Ansher said the health district is using Inova because of staff shortages in the public health system. Under state regulation, the health district needs supervisory nursing staff to oversee vaccinators while they administer doses. Currently, Ansher said, her department has only four nurses experienced enough to serve those supervisory roles, though more should be able to do so in the future.
On Monday, Prince William was one of 11 health districts in the state that moved into phase 1B, in which people over the age of 75 and essential frontline workers are eligible for vaccination. Teachers are listed as the third priority group among those frontline workers, behind health care workers that weren’t vaccinated in phase 1A, emergency first responders such as police officers, as well as correctional and homeless shelter employees. Ansher said that currently public health staff only have capacity to handle the earlier priority groups.
Coles District Supervisor Yesli Vega asked whether there was anything the county could do to speed up the process, saying that teachers should be eligible for their shots sooner.
“Right now we don’t have the capacity beyond health care workers and the 75 and older,” Ansher responded. “Encourage our local hospitals? I don’t know. I think personally, I absolutely agree with you. That’s why I reached out to Inova because that’s what I thought would be the most expeditious way to get it done.”
Representatives from Inova and Prince William County Public Schools could not be immediately reached for additional information on what the vaccination registration and delivery process would look like.
It was also unclear whether teachers would be given the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. For the Pfizer vaccine, it’s recommended that the second dose be administered three weeks after the first. For the Moderna vaccine, second shots are given four weeks after the first. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an individual should develop immunity to the virus within two weeks of receiving their second shot.
Earlier on Tuesday, the school district announced that its first employee had died of COVID-19. Dinora Mejia, a custodian at Potomac View Elementary School in Woodbridge, had been on medical leave since Dec. 9, according to a note to parents sent by Potomac View principal Latiesa Green.
During the supervisors meeting, Occoquan Supervisor Kenny Boddye referenced Mejia’s death, expressing frustration at reports of teachers in other Northern Virginia school divisions gaining access to vaccines sooner.
“Obviously no fault of your own, but I just want to highlight that we are behind other localities. … And it’s causing a lot of concern among our populace,” Boddye told Ansher.
Second- and third-grade students are scheduled to resume in-person learning in Prince William this week, with a plan for older students still not determined. Currently, only special education and English-language learners are receiving hybrid in-person instruction in Manassas City Public Schools and Manassas Park City Schools. All other students in those divisions are receiving virtual instruction only.