IMPERIAL COUNTY — The Imperial County Public Health Department announced Monday, February 22, that beginning this week vaccinations will be available to more sectors of Tier 1B.

These sectors include high-risk individuals in emergency services, food and agricultural services, childcare, and in education.

Vaccines for educators has been a top priority for many school districts in not only the County, but the Country, as unions have made it a major factor in negotiations for school reopening. Schools are currently not open for in-person sessions. However, last Wednesday TK through 6th grade elementary schools were given the green light to begin creating safety plans for reopening campuses.

“We’re pleased to be able to offer vaccines to these additional sectors as more vaccine is being made available to Imperial County,” stated Janette Angulo, Imperial County Public Health director. “We’ve been collaborating with an array of partners to start the rollout of the vaccine to Phase 1b, Tier 1 sectors in a coordinated way. Because so much of our population consists of individuals working in food and agriculture and education, we’re extremely grateful to Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, Imperial County Farm Bureau, Imperial County Office of Education and others for their partnership in these efforts.”

The ICPHD is allocating 400 vaccines for educators. Further distribution among the 16 school districts in the Valley will be done by employment percentage of those who are providing in-person services.

“We are excited to continue to work with the Public Health Department as well as our entire community progress as a whole through the pandemic,” said ICOE Emergency and Safety Coordinator Alvaro Ramirez.

Ramirez said it will help local health continue improve enough to begin, allowing the middle and high schools to begin opening up for in-person learning as well.

ICPHD began the long-awaited vaccinations on Friday for farm workers and educators, bringing relief to some teachers who have been waiting for protection against COVID before schools reopen.

Most districts are following a priority system where teachers and staff that will be physically interacting with students — such as in the small cohorts that some schools have opened for special education and high-risk students — will be first to get the vaccine. They will be followed by others who will be physically interacting with students in the future, then those who are currently working only from home, and finally all others including school board members.

Austin Quarcelino, 8th grade teacher at Pine Elementary School, said he planned to get the vaccine as soon as he could. He said while he was happy the Health Department is rolling out, he is unsure how the County will do with distribution due to low numbers of doses the Imperial Valley has received and the large numbers of teachers in the Valley. Pine was allocated 19 vaccines, according to Quarcelino, again due to the size of the population of employees who will be doing in person-teaching at this time.

"I'm happy, I've had a bit of a sigh of relief," said Quarcelino. "I would have returned to work with or without it, that's just how I feel about it, but I will feel more safe going with the vaccine."

Brawley Elementary Teacher Association President Mary-Anne Moreno said the availability of vaccines is one of the promises Brawley Union has been negotiating for in the reopening of schools. To see it happening now, is a relief but also a small shock, she said. 

"In our talks we say, well, safe for us is when we are vaccinated, now that the vaccine is here sooner than we thought we are now in the talks of reopening the facilities," said Moreno, who plans to take the vaccine once her priority group comes up.

Moreno doubts all of the concerns of opening campuses are over, and more will need to be done before all of the schools can get back to a semblance of normalcy.

Vaccination efforts for those 65 and older continues throughout the County as more private providers receive vaccine supplies.

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