Teachers receiving COVID-19 vaccinations in first phase of distribution

Vaccines should be available to educators in late January, February

Educators will begin to get access to COVID-19 vaccines on a regular basis toward the end of January and early February, state officials said, while Kauai public school employees will get vaccinated starting Monday.

Many Hawaii State Teachers Association members are eagerly awaiting news of the COVID-19 vaccine. HSTA has been in discussions with the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) and Department of Health (DOH) and can provide the following updates for our members.

The COVID-19 vaccines began arriving in Hawaii in December. About 65,000 doses had arrived by the end of the month with more arriving each week. Vaccine distribution and access are prioritized as illustrated below:

There are two phases to the vaccine distribution. Phase 1 is further broken down into three groups:

  • 1a: Health care personnel and long-term care facility residents 
  • 1b: Adults older than 75 and frontline essential workers* ⬅️ Teachers fall in this category.
  • 1c: Adults 65–74 years, persons 16–64 who have high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers who are not considered “frontline”

*Frontline essential workers are defined as workers whose duties must be performed on-site and require being in close proximity to the public or coworkers, are at substantially higher risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and are essential to the functioning of society with special attention to life and safety first.

Approximately 75 percent of Hawaii’s population falls in category 1a, 1b, or 1c. This means that the Phase 1 vaccine distribution will likely continue through the spring and into the summer as the category includes approximately 800,000 people. Phase 2 includes everyone else ages 16 and older, around 300,000 people.

Vaccines have not been approved for distribution to anyone under 16 years old. The state has not given any indications that it will mandate vaccines for any student at this time. In addition,  there are no plans to distribute vaccines to students ages 16+ through the public school system.  Any determination of mandatory student vaccines would be led by the DOH, which has the authority to determine any required vaccines for students in public schools and universities.

HIDOE issues COVID-19 survey

The HIDOE is currently developing a vaccination plan for all employees and service providers serving and supporting our public schools. To help expedite the administration process, HIDOE employees wanting access to the vaccine should fill out the brief survey below as soon as possible. Submissions received by Jan. 15 will be included in the first batch of information provided to DOH. Thereafter, submissions will be provided on a rolling basis.

Once information is provided to DOH, employees can expect to receive further information on opportunities to schedule their vaccines as they become available. This may include direct scheduling with either DOH, a regional health care provider, or a HIDOE partner site. Please keep in mind that timing will vary for all employees.

Take the survey

Make sure you notify your employer (HIDOE, charter school) if you want the vaccine

The HIDOE has split its employees into three groups to prioritize vaccinations:

  • Group 1: Adults who work on-site and have direct contact with the public, including employees at the school level,
  • Group 2: Those who work in close proximity to colleagues, including places like the district office staff, and
  • Group 3: All others, including places like HIDOE state office. 

Schools are also going to begin surveying employees on their desire to receive the vaccine.  These surveys will not be distributed en masse; they are being coordinated locally through the district offices.

Teachers are strongly encouraged to respond to the survey in a timely manner. The survey will ask if you are interested in receiving the vaccine, which places you on a list for access, and will likely ask you for personal contact information and the like so they can properly prepare systems for tracking. Tracking is required so officials can ensure recipients get their second dose in a timely manner.

If you are at all interested in the vaccine, responding in the positive will ensure you are placed in the count. If you respond in the negative and change your mind later, this may delay your access to the vaccine as vaccines are being ordered based on initial positive responses.

HSTA encourages members, public to get vaccinated

While the state of Hawaii currently has no plans to mandate vaccines for employees in public schools, the HSTA fully encourages all of its members and the community to get COVID-19 vaccinations. HSTA is optimistic that when educators receive the second of the two-step vaccinations currently available in the United States, that will open up safer opportunities to increase in-person learning options. HSTA also believes teachers who are medically unable to receive the vaccine must also be given a chance to conduct distance learning until we have achieved herd immunity.

For the vaccine to be fully effective within our community, the goal is to vaccinate 60–70 percent of Hawaii’s 1.1 million population. The goal is to complete distributing the vaccine as quickly and effectively as possible, so distribution may ebb and flow at various rates based on the availability of vaccines within the immediate geographic area. For example, Kauai had additional vaccines available and the DOH is making those available to HIDOE employees starting Monday, Jan. 11. This was very unusual, but a good example of how working quickly to provide vaccines to each priority group will result in inconsistent dates for distribution. Generally, the HSTA expects educators will begin to get access to vaccines on a regular basis toward the end of January and early February.

How will I know when I can get the vaccine and if it’s available? 

Once it is clear that vaccines are available for a specific employee group in a geographic area, you will be notified by your employer of the date, time, location, and any other specifics.

The HSTA has requested that, if possible, distribution sites be set up near workplaces.  However, members should know the vaccines require specific cold storage and health care workers are in short supply, so all distribution of vaccines are being done in the most efficient way possible to maintain vaccine integrity and not overextend health care staff.

The HSTA has also requested that, if possible, paid work time be provided for employees to get the vaccine. We are awaiting a response on this request.

The HSTA has representatives who sit on the state’s Vaccine Implementation Program Committee, which is made up of representatives from more than 100 medical organizations, government departments, schools, universities, and other non-profits throughout the state and community. Regular meetings and communications have occurred since November to keep all these groups informed. In addition, HSTA has been in discussion with the HIDOE regarding their plans for supporting vaccine availability for employees.

Using guidance from the federal government, the state developed a vaccine implementation plan that is in continuous adjustment and improvement.

Click here for more information related to the state’s vaccine program