Some Clark County educators were elated to receive their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine last week, while many others met with disappointment during a confusing rollout, including some who booked appointments only to be turned away at inoculation sites.
Michael Stevens, a P.E. teacher at Ober Elementary School in Las Vegas, said he was rebuffed at a vaccination site in UNLV’s Student Union late Thursday after waiting approximately an hour. When he was 100 feet from the door, an employee stepped out to let people in line know that no more doses were available for Clark County School District employees, he said.
Despite this being his third unsuccessful attempt at getting a vaccine, Stevens said he wasn’t upset about being turned away. He said he made an appointment out of civic duty, reasoning that if he was able to sign up online using his employee information he must be eligible for an appointment.
“I’m trying to do what’s best for my community and my family and take the necessary steps to be back into school,” he said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable being back until I have both doses.”
The vaccine eligibility status of School District employees has been a particular source of confusion and frustration as the district prepares for the return of essential staff on Monday, followed by small groups of students, possibly as soon as late February.
Some CCSD employees were able to schedule appointments at vaccine sites and be inoculated last week, after the Southern Nevada listed them among groups eligible to receive the first shot in the double-dose regimen.
Confusing sequence of events
But for many others, the experience was Kafkaesque.
The confusion began when a dedicated vaccination portal for educators on the Health District’s website appeared briefly at mid-month only to vanish, forcing CCSD workers to regularly check the page for another chance to sign up.
Then a Tuesday memo from the School District said that signups were tentatively set for Monday, and warned that any educators who signed up prior to that date risked being turned away.
Two CCSD teachers, who spoke to the Review-Journal on condition of anonymity out of fears of reprisal, said they received a link for an appointment at the UNLV site from their supervisors and signed up. But hours later, they received an update from the district saying they shouldn’t have done so until Monday. Others found the links through colleagues, or on social media.
But the links were reserved for certain employee groups at the district, like medical professionals and police officers. A Thursday night memo from the district addressed the registrations by others, saying that only CCSD “medical professionals” would be eligible to get the vaccine at appointments at UNLV, which is run by the Nevada System of Higher Education, or a second site for educators at the College of Southern Nevada in Henderson operated by UNLV.
All others, it said, “will be turned away.”
It also said appointments would not begin for other CCSD employees on Monday. “The work to set up the scheduling website and process is still ongoing,” it said, adding that “a specific date is not yet available” for CCSD staff using the college “points of distribution,” or PODs.
Teachers who showed up for scheduled appointments this week were told that they weren’t supposed to be able to register yet, said Dr. Michael Gardner, vice dean of clinical affairs for the UNLV School of Medicine and president and CEO of UNLV Medicine.
Registration links shared
“Regrettably, but understandably,” he said, the registration portal was shared around via social media, noting that “people are scared and frightened” about coronavirus and are eager to get vaccinated.
UNLV shut its COVID-19 vaccination registration website Thursday to prevent further signups, Gardner said. A new website set to launch next week will allow people to register online but prevent them forwarding links to the portal to others, he added.
In a Friday statement, CCSD representatives said the district had not told employees that appointments were open to educators or shared links for all employees to make appointments.
“The district understands many educators are eager to get the vaccine so students can safely return to the classroom,” it said. “Clogging the established system with requests for appointments before a designated timeline has been announced will lead to a slower process and unneeded frustration for all involved.”
The district had representatives at both the UNLV and CSN Henderson sites to answer questions from its employees.
SNHD spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said teachers remain eligible to make appointments under state guidelines, but vaccines are provided based on the availability of the resources.
“Not everyone will be able to get appointments right away,” Sizemore said. “However, appointment availability is continually expanded, and everyone who wants the vaccine will be able to get it.”
State officials said Friday that a vaccine shortage was hurting efforts to speed the delivery of shots to Nevadans, which they attributed to the limited doses provided by the federal government.
‘We’ll get there’
On Friday, the CSN site in Henderson was providing vaccinations by appointment only to health care workers, first responders, law enforcement, NSHE employees who are working on campuses and those 70 and older, said Patty Charlton, campus vice president and provost.
At UNLV, a steady stream of people checked in and received shots, but CCSD employees were asked to reschedule.
Gardner, the UNLV Medicine official, said that as a physician, he wishes everyone could have access to the vaccine immediately. But there aren’t the doses for that right now.
“We’ll get there,” he said.
He added that the site could receive additional doses as soon as the middle of this week and resume administering about 1,000 doses per day, Monday through Friday.
It should soon be able to begin inoculating CCSD employees, as well as those from public charter schools and private schools, Gardner said, adding that they should await further communication from the district. Gardner noted that it’s the school district’s decision about which employees to prioritize first to receive the vaccine.
Many teachers shared disappointing experiences Friday about the turn of events, but
Stevens, the P.E. coach, maintained his sense of humor. He compared his experience to a “Seinfeld” episode in which Jerry discovers that his “reservation” for a rental car didn’t guarantee that a car would be available.
“The reservation keeps the car here,” he attempts to explain to the clerk. “That’s why you have the reservation.”
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