If 90,000 teachers and other school employees in San Diego County were notified that they were eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, why did only 23,000 sign up for their shots?
That’s the question education officials are asking themselves, and the answers aren’t easy to pin down.
The Voluntary Employees Benefits Association, or VEBA, is the agency tasked with making sure every person in the education sector who wants a coronavirus vaccine gets one. VEBA notified education employees serving grades K-12 a couple of weeks ago that they could sign up, but the response has been tepid, at best.
“We know for sure people were going to their medical providers,” said Laura Josh of VEBA, who added that educators also went to local pharmacies for their vaccines. “So when you see the VEBA vaccinates number, that’s the folks who’ve gone through our actual portal, but we don’t have visibility or consolidated reporting for folks who have gone through channels.”
Martha Garcia, who teaches transitional kindergarten at Las Palmas Elementary School in National City, told NBC7 that she went to a local clinic after learning that she could pick which vaccine she wanted, whereas by going to a VEBA-designated site, she would have to get whatever vaccine they were offering.
Garcia said she and her husband wanted the Moderna vaccine, so they didn't register through the VEBA site.
Garcia said teachers are “ready and willing” to get the vaccine, and doubted whether the numbers released by VEBA were a true reflection of how many teachers got vaccinated.
“There is no accurate way to track if a K-12 education worker has been vaccinated at another provider,” said Bob Mueller, who’s tasked with handling the San Diego County Office of Education’s COVID-19 response.
Mueller said it’s possible some educators don’t want the vaccine, but his main concern is making sure every education worker who wants one can have it.
San Diego County set aside thousands of doses for educators, but if vaccines go unused, a county representative said, they will be redistributed to those who qualify for them.