L.A. County is preparing to expand vaccine eligibility on March 1 to approximately 1.3 million workers in education, emergency services, and food and agriculture sectors.

Health Department officials said they will release a more specific Phase 1b vaccination plan on Thursday, once they know what next week’s vaccine allotment will be.

This new phase of vaccination will be essential for reopening schools in L.A. County.

SMMUSD reached an agreement with the teacher’s union last week to offer limited in-person services in transitional kindergarten through grade 5 once vaccines have been available for 15 days.

“We estimate that about 691,000 people will be eligible for vaccines in the education and childcare sector,” said Public Health Director, Barbara Ferrer. “Many school districts already have their partnerships and capacity to create their own pods to vaccinate their workforce.”

Contingent on supply being available, teachers at Santa-Monica Malibu schools will be offered vaccines at the Providence Saint John’s Medical Center.

“As we move forward vaccinating our school staff and beginning to reopen our elementary schools, I’m committed to ensuring our schools have the necessary tools they need to succeed,” said LA Board of Supervisors Chair, Hilda Solis.

Solis is putting forward a motion at the BOS meeting on Tuesday to distribute millions of N95 masks to schools across the County. Solis also highlighted an urgent need to support the Biden administration’s ‘American Rescue Plan’, which would provide billions in federal funding to help reopen schools.

The County received the green light to reopen elementary schools last week after cases dropped below the threshold of 25 cases per 100,000 residents. Cases are currently hovering just below 20 per 100,000.

Secondary schools may reopen once case rates reach 7 per 100,000 residents.

“This is a goal we can all get behind,” said Ferrer.

Across L.A. County case, hospitalization and death rates continue to trend downwards.

The seven day number of average cases is now 1,600 a day, representing a 90 percent decrease from the peak of over 15,000 recorded on Jan. 8.

On Monday health officials reported that 1,770,505 people have received at least one vaccine dose, representing 17.6 percent of L.A. County. As of Saturday, 18.6 percent of Santa Monica residents had received one dose.

Vaccinating the 1.3 million new workers eligible in Phase 1b is a daunting challenge.

“We are continuing to experience a scarcity of supply and variability in the amount of vaccine we receive from week to week,” said Ferrer.

The County is working with employers to establish direct appointments, clinics, and vaccination pods for Phase 1b employees so they can bypass the online appointment system.

According to Ferrer this system is one of the reasons why vaccination rates have been disproportionately low in low-income communities and communities of color. Many of these residents do not have the time or computer capacity to constantly look for online appointments slots nor the resources to travel far distances to vaccination sites.

In addition to creating vaccination pods for eligible workers, the County is also increasing the number of community organizations and local pharmacies offering vaccines with an emphasis on opening sites in hardest hit communities.

Ferrer expressed hope that the vaccination rates will increase once the FDA approves the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The FDA will meet to discuss this vaccine on Friday.

“Johnson & Johnson has the advantage of being a one dose vaccine,” said Ferrer. “We’ll be using Johnson & Johnson at all of our sites all across the County because it’s a very effective vaccine.”

Clara@smdp.com