Staff at Santa Monica-Malibu schools began receiving vaccinations on Monday as part of the County’s Phase 1b vaccine expansion that includes roughly 1.3 million essential workers.

These vaccines will play a key role in facilitating the upcoming launch of in-person experiences at elementary schools.

The District is coordinating with Providence Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica to arrange appointments for all 2,000 staff members, prioritizing those currently working on campus and those who will return to campus the week of March 15.

“We are pleased to have St. John’s as our partner to ensure our teachers and staff who wish to be vaccinated are vaccinated over the next few weeks,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Dr. Mark Kelly. “We have encouraged our staff to seek vaccinations by any means possible, to expedite the process.”

The precise number of doses available for SMMUSD staff this week is currently unknown. The District plans on cycling through daily appointments until all staff have been offered slots.

Elementary schools have plans to begin in-person academics and instruction TK through Grade 5 the week of March 15.

Once County cases reach 7 per 100,000 residents, secondary schools will also be allowed to reopen. On Feb. 24 the Department of Public Health reported that the County was approaching this benchmark with 12.3 cases per 100,000 residents.

“Vaccinating our teachers and staff brings us closer to expanding the reopening of our TK-12 schools as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Kelly. “We are all interested in the return of students and staff as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The biggest constraint on vaccination rates continues to be the limited supply.

While LAUSD has been guaranteed enough doses by the end of next week to inoculate all elementary school staff, no other district has received a similar government promise.

Currently around 30 percent of doses received by the County are being allocated for education workers.

“This is a critical step in giving our educators, students and their families peace of mind that they and their loved ones will be protected in the classroom,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.

County officials estimate that there are over 546,000 people in the education and childcare sector. These individuals became eligible for the vaccine on Monday alongside approximately 500,000 food and agriculture workers and 116,000 emergency services employees.

The County has built an expansive network of over 400 vaccination sites that have a much greater capacity to offer vaccinations than the state is currently able to supply. According to Health Director Barbara Ferrer there is space for 500,000 appointments this week, but only enough doses to fill 270,000 of them.

Ferrer expressed optimism that the supply issue may improve with the recent approval of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could begin being administered in L.A. County as early as this week.

“To me, this is a game changer,” said Ferrer. “Johnson & Johnson is a one shot vaccine without the ultra cold storage requirements, which means we can vaccinate more people, particularly those most vulnerable such as people experiencing homelessness, who may have a hard time getting a second dose.”

Clara@smdp.com