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Janesville to cancel school so teachers can be vaccinated

Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 18, 2021

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON — Janesville teachers just got moved to the head of COVID-19 vaccine line. 

The Janesville School District plans to cancel classes on Friday so that its teachers can receive the first round of vaccinations. They will receive their second dose on Feb. 12, district spokesman Patrick Gasper tells Empower Wisconsin. 

“We have upwards of 1,300 employees willing to take the vaccine,” Gasper said. The remaining 300 or so district employees either have refused or can’t be vaccinated. 

As of late last week, teachers were to be included in the second phase of priority vaccinations, but the 12-member State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee (SDMAC) and the Evers administration’s Department of Health Services had yet to sign off on the controversial recommendations. The slow-moving decision-making is just one of the problems with the muddled Evers administration vaccine distribution plan, critics say. 

As Empower Wisconsin reported last week, educators, early childcare workers, police officers and prisoners are in the recommended phase 1B of vaccinations. 

But the Janesville School District has moved up thanks to MercyHealth System. The Janesville health care provider, a state vaccinator under the Department of Health Service’s vaccine distribution plan, last week informed school officials it had doses available. The district said it could make teachers and staff available. 

“We said, ‘We can do this. We are willing. We are ready,’” Gasper said, adding that the district had put its plan in place in anticipation of the vaccine becoming available. That included conducting a survey asking employees if they would get the vaccine.

MercyHealth’s offer comes just as Janesville’s high schools and middle schools are set to re-open to in-person learning after a lengthy period of virtual education. Classes resume Tuesday. 

While some raised questions about teachers receiving the vaccine before populations more vulnerable to COVID-19, the chairman of the Assembly Health Committee said, bring it on. 

“Anything we can do to get people vaccinated is a good thing,” said state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin). 

The Health Committee heard from an array of vaccine stakeholders during a hearing last week about the many foibles of the Evers administration’s distribution plan. 

“One of the things we learned from the hearings is that some of our vaccinators have gone through the 1A group and want to move to 1B, but DHS tells them they can’t because they have to wait until everyone catches up,” Sanfelippo said. “If we’ve got the vaccine, let’s use them.”

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