Vaccinations now take place against the backdrop of a resurging coronavirus and its delta variant. (Photo: Spc. Eric Cerami/U.S. Army 55th Signal Co.)

Cambridge Public Schools are preparing to open their doors to all students after almost 18 months of closings, remote classes and shortened summer programs. The first day of school for Grades 1 through 12 is Thursday, with junior kindergarten and kindergarten starting classes Monday.

District staff vaccination rates, in light of the summer surge of the Covid-19 delta variant, was a hot topic at the School Committee meeting Aug. 31. Perhaps surprising given the ongoing national debate, it wasn’t a controversial one, even as the district finalizes a mandatory vaccinations policy for all staff.

Representatives from the district and Cambridge Education Association are negotiating mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for all union employees. 

Interim superintendent Victoria Greer noted that while the negotiations are confidential, the district and union teams “actually see eye to eye more than not” and that a common goal is for an agreement to be reached swiftly.

Union president Dan Monahan stated his strong support for the mandate at the committee meeting. In an email Tuesday, he said the sides are resolving some operational issues.

“We must use all that we know and use all of our resources, including financial resources, personnel and the wisdom of our community,” Monahan said. “There’s much more that needs to be done to maximize the safety of our community than just the vaccine mandate. And the CEA is ready to work with [the district] to make that happen.”

State law requires that changes in contracts must be negotiated with the union on behalf of its members; if an employee is not part of a union, the district may mandate vaccination (absent a health or religious exemption) as a condition of employment, Greer noted.

Non-union vaccinations

Administrative and non-union staff have a tentative deadline vaccination deadline of Oct. 18, allowing time to make an appointment and select a vaccine type, district chief operating officer Jim Maloney said. The timing of full immunization will vary depending on the type selected.

The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides full immunization two weeks after the shot; if the vaccine is given Oct. 18, the person would be fully protected Nov. 1.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, with Pfizer shots spaced a minimum of three weeks apart and Moderna spaced a minimum of four weeks apart. Full immunization is effective two weeks after the second dose. If the first shot is given Oct. 18 and the minimum amount of time between shots is used, staff getting Pfizer or Moderna shots will be fully immunized in late November.

Vaccination staff survey

The district sent an online survey in mid-August to 1,701 staff asking their vaccination status. There were 1,100 staff members who responded, with 97 percent of them saying they were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 31, Greer said. Thirty-two said they were not vaccinated.

The vaccination status of the remaining 600 staff is uncertain; principals will ask the staff to respond to the survey this week. The district’s approach is unclear if a large number of these staff members are not vaccinated, but current policy requires unvaccinated staff to get Covid-19 tests five days as week.

School Committee vice chair Manikka Bowman asked for staff vaccination data to be uploaded to the district’s Covid-19 data dashboard. Greer said that she will work to publish the aggregate  staff vaccination numbers on the district website and update it as information becomes available.

Student vaccinations

The number of eligible students who are vaccinated varies drastically by age: 76 percent of Cambridge residents ages 12 through 15 are fully vaccinated, but that slips to only 48 percent of residents ages 16 through 19 as of Aug. 31, according to city public health department school health nurse manager Anita Barandao.

The health department continues its efforts to encourage all eligible students to get vaccinated, and will partner with high school students to encourage peers to be vaccinated and schedule vaccine clinics offering Covid-19 and flu vaccines, chief medical officer Dr. Lisa Dobberteen said. These clinics will be announced as vaccine supply and delivery are confirmed.

“We have thought very carefully about all the mitigation strategies in place,” said Dobberteen, adding that the rapid spread of the Covid-19 delta variant requires “all of our efforts and being diligent and observing mitigation strategies at the student, the staff and the educator level.”

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