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Supply chain issues force Chesterfield schools to delay vaccinations

Superintendent Merv Daugherty at last week’s School Board meeting. At the meeting, the board voted 4-1 to allow elementary students to return to classrooms on Feb. 1. Photo by Ash Daniel

Because of ongoing issues with Virginia’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Chesterfield County Public Schools has been forced to revise its recently announced plan to administer the first dose to all willing employees over the next two weeks.

Superintendent Merv Daugherty informed staff via email Tuesday afternoon that the school system is receiving only a fraction of the 8,000 doses ordered last week by the Chesterfield Health District.

According to Daugherty, school officials expected to get about half of those doses this week. Instead, the shipment that arrived in Chesterfield on Monday contained only 1,000 – 750 of which have been made available to the school system.

“Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of others at the state level as to when we receive the number of shots that we need. I regret that I have to share the supply chain outside of CCPS has not delivered,” Daugherty said in the email.

Virginia continues to rank among the bottom five states in the country for administering the new coronavirus vaccines – a fact that is causing considerable angst for local governments like Chesterfield, which is trying to get teachers vaccinated as quickly as possible so the school system can safely resume face-to-face instruction in all 64 of its buildings.

In a letter released Tuesday morning, the Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Joe Casey said Chesterfield “empathizes with citizens who are concerned and frustrated with the state’s vaccine rollout” and noted county leaders “will continue to push the state to expedite the process as much as possible.”

The school system just sent employees a vaccine administration schedule last Friday, outlining a plan for them to receive their first dose in four groups between Jan. 21 and Feb. 5.

All elementary school staff were in the initial group eligible to be vaccinated Jan. 21-22, more than a week before students at Chesterfield elementary schools have an option to return to classrooms for five days of in-person learning beginning Feb. 1.

Because of the significantly reduced supply of vaccines, however, now only school-based staff who work with Cohort 1 special education students, special education transportation staff and employees at the county’s Juvenile Detention Home will receive their first dose later this week.

Daugherty said school officials have asked the state departments of health and education to intercede on Chesterfield’s behalf; they also intend to speak with the office of Gov. Ralph Northam, who said last week Virginia has a plan to accelerate the pace of vaccine delivery with a goal of administering 25,000 shots per day.

CCPS is hoping to receive a much larger number of doses from the vaccine order that was placed today by the Chesterfield Health District. The school system also is working with the state to determine a realistic target for weekly vaccine deliveries and will design a new distribution schedule accordingly.

“It remains our intention to distribute shots as quickly as we can get them. This means the distribution timeline may be very fluid, and an employee/school could receive a day or two notice before getting the shot,” Daugherty noted in his email.

In the meantime, CCPS has no plans to delay the re-entry of elementary students for in-person learning. The superintendent said that decision was made before school officials knew vaccines might be available in Chesterfield.

The Chesterfield Education Association has urged the school system not to return to in-person instruction until after all staff have received both doses of the vaccine.

“This is not where any of us want to be. Relying on others to meet our needs is not a comfortable position for any of us. We share your immense frustration,” Daugherty wrote. “We will continue to advocate on behalf of our staff members, who continue to be a stabilizing force for our students and who continue to do amazing things to support our students’ needs during this uncertain time.”

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