Refreshing the SFUSD teachers’ Facebook page between classes. Frantically texting colleagues when vaccine spots open up. Disappointment when a site overbooks and cancels appointments.
“It’s the Hunger Games,” said Monica Mendoza, a kindergarten teacher at Dolores Huerta. “It’s been up to us as the teachers to forage for the vaccine ourselves.”
The first day of San Francisco’s vaccine rollout to educators was marked by confusion as teachers scrambled to snag limited vaccine slots. Mendoza ultimately secured a vaccination appointment, but other teachers were still searching as of Wednesday afternoon.
Though the city has the site capacity to vaccinate 10,000 people a day, vaccine doses are in short supply, and healthcare providers are prioritizing providing second doses. “Appointments for first vaccine doses are limited, and people who are eligible may not be able to get appointments right away,” the city wrote in a morning press release.
Moreover, teachers were also competing against others who were added to the eligibility list this week, such as food and agricultural workers, police officers and firefighters.
Much of the frustration teachers had with the rollout stemmed from the role vaccines play in bringing them one step closer to seeing their students in-person. The Board of Education approved an agreement on Tuesday over health and safety requirements for a return to in-person learning. That deal depends, in part, on vaccinations. The return will proceed if teachers are vaccinated and San Francisco is moved to the red tier — which the city is poised to achieve in March.
“As people get appointments, they’re feeling a lot of joy and excitement because vaccinations are a huge step forward toward being able to reopen safely and being back with students and families in person,” said Esther Fensel, the principal of Everett Middle School.
Finding appointments, teachers said, was the product of individual efforts and word-of-mouth, aided by group texts, email lists and the SFUSD Facebook group. Just as soon as appointments were made available — by the city, UCSF, Walgreens and others — they disappeared within minutes.
In one incident, a link circulated advertising vaccinations in San Mateo for educators. The post didn’t specify that educators had to be from or in San Mateo — and the ensuing rounds of appointment cancellations sent some educators back to square one.
“It’s a mess, it’s chaotic,” said Frank Lara, a teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann and United Educators of San Francisco leader, of the attempt to land a vaccine.
He secured an appointment at Rankin Street in a circuitous way: After he posted his frustrations on Facebook, staff at the vaccination site reached out and said they had vaccines set aside for people working in hotspots like the Mission.
He got vaccinated at 2 p.m. “It’s a big blessing, a big privilege,” he said.
Nina Schield, a third-grade teacher at Rooftop, also got an appointment through what felt like luck. She donated bone marrow over the summer at UCSF, and already had a MyChart account set up with the hospital that notified her when slots were available. She quickly signed up, and then passed along the information to a coworker.
But when that coworker went to sign up a few minutes later, the 100 slots were already filled.
Some teachers said they wished the city had better communicated with educators about appointments, instead of leaving them feeling left in the dark or dependent on their colleagues to secure a slot.
Mendoza said the difficulties of signing up were frustrating in the context of recent tensions in the push to reopen schools. San Francisco sued the district for allegedly not reopening fast enough, and Mendoza said she feels like most of the blame for not reopening has been placed on teachers and the union, although the city could accelerate the process by making it easier for teachers to get vaccinated.
“A lot of the phrasing is pointing toward teachers as the ones that are holding up in-person educating,” she said. “But the city of San Francisco is not making it any easier for teachers to be able to obtain the vaccine.”
The Department of Public Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vaccinations for educators in the Mission is especially important, teachers said, because the district has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic — vaccinating teachers could reduce transmission between teachers and the broader community and allow schools to open again, potentially reducing learning loss students who are low-income or students of color have faced.
“Having our staff able to get vaccinated is doing our part for the community that we work in and that we serve,” said Fensel, the Everett principal. “Custodial staff, support staff and security staff already on-site will get a huge boost in their safety and health.”
But for those benefits to be fully reaped, teachers need to have access to a vaccine. Linda Perez, a longtime kindergarten teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann, was still searching for an appointment as of Wednesday afternoon.
She tried to sign up for an appointment at noon when a colleague said slots had opened up. But she initially entered her information incorrectly, and by the time she had it fixed 20 minutes later, the only times left were ones where she was teaching — a no-go. She described the situation as “dog-eat-dog.”
“How can you have so few appointments available for people when thousands were waiting for this day to sign up,” she said with a sigh. “I’m going to spend my evening trying to figure out these sites.”