The state’s last-minute cancellation of the mass vaccination event for local teachers was an unreasonable blow for this community.
In early January, Rio Rancho Public Schools, UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center and Sandoval County officials received approval from the state Department of Health to vaccinate 1,800 educators from RRPS, Bernalillo Public Schools and two charter schools in one event. For two weeks, RRPS, SRMC and the county planned the myriad details, including cancelling in-person elementary classes in Rio Rancho, and kept the DOH updated.
Less than 24 hours before the event, the health department forbade it, saying teachers aren’t allowed to have the vaccine yet and it wouldn’t be fair to Albuquerque Public Schools, which had a similar event canceled. RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland has said the vaccines allotted for the event were shipped elsewhere.
If the DOH had denied approval at the beginning, or even a few days in, that would have been fair and understandable. Waiting until the last minute was not.
Yes, the most vulnerable people should be vaccinated first. That designation should encompass essential workers around lots of people and unable do their jobs at home — including teachers providing in-person education, an option in Rio Rancho.
New Mexico is in Tier 1B of vaccinations, once said to include teachers. All of the sudden, it no longer does.
If the understanding of the tiers and communication within DOH were so poor that a mistaken approval went unrecognized for two weeks, state officials should have allowed the event to happen. The same goes with Albuquerque Public Schools’ event.
Instead, the community got the short end of the stick. The DOH’s cancellation took away from the community vaccines and training experience for county workers to learn how to vaccinate more people faster.
Then there’s the time.
Parents had re-arranged their already difficult schedules to handle the day off school. Plus, the planning entities poured tons of taxpayer-funded hours into the event — and we lost at least some of that investment when the event was canceled.
County spokesman Stephen Montoya said Emergency Manager Seth Muller spent 80-plus hours on it.
RRPS Chief Communications, Strategy and Engagement Officer Beth Pendergrass said she couldn’t count the hours the district put into planning because of the large amount of people and moving parts involved.
Her list of tasks the district accomplished is too long to reprint. It included everything from preparing Chromebooks, to arranging facilities and snacks for 64 volunteers, to helping educators register.
SRMC representatives weren’t allowed to comment. UNM Health Sciences Center spokesman Mark Rudi said planning vaccinations is normal work for the university’s emergency operations center.
“We are confident that there will be future vaccination events and that work that went into planning for the event that was canceled will be able to be used in the future,” Rudi said.
Not everyone was quite as optimistic.
Montoya said the county would have the basic framework for another vaccination event, but employees would have to redo details because each situation is a bit different.
RRPS spokeswoman Melissa Perez also said future planning would depend on the circumstances.
“Our hope would be that the majority of legwork would be done and we could in essence repurpose our original plan,” she said. “However, we wouldn’t know for sure until we saw what was presented to us by DOH.”
Adding to the hypocrisy of the state denial is that other school districts were allowed to vaccinate at least some of their teachers.
And Tuesday, the governor announced she would allow secondary hybrid students to begin attending classes in person Feb. 8. Yet, local teachers weren’t allowed vaccinations.
We appreciate the DOH taking the blame for the problem. Still, officials should have let the event happen.