As part of its suite of resources to support safe school reopenings, Chiefs for Change this week released a case study that outlines how Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tenn., is working with the state health department to determine the district’s COVID-19 vaccination rate for teachers and staff. The case study explains that Hamilton County’s process—which involves access to the statewide vaccine database and consent from the state health department—is aimed at limiting the need for quarantines, maximizing critical in-person instruction, and combatting vaccine hesitancy throughout the district.
“We know the COVID vaccine offers an added layer of protection for our employees, so we encouraged our teachers and staff to get the shot, and provided opportunities for them to do so as soon as we started receiving the doses,” said Chiefs for Change member and Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson. “We quickly realized that while many of our employees used our district clinics, others got their shots at local pharmacies and distribution sites—and still others had questions about getting the vaccine at all, and were holding off.
“We needed to understand our actual vaccination rate to inform our operational decisions, and to guide our vaccine outreach. By partnering with the Tennessee Department of Health, we were able to implement a simple solution that gives us a clear picture of how many employees have been vaccinated. Now, we’re using that information to keep our schools open, help people feel comfortable with the shot, and ensure teachers can focus on the great learning going on in their classrooms.”
As the case study explains, the speed, complexity, and urgency of the COVID vaccine rollout in states nationwide meant that vaccinations were not always tracked. Without knowing their actual staff vaccination rates, districts may be quarantining staff unnecessarily; wasting valuable time and effort on contact tracing for vaccinated individuals; or overestimating how many employees have received the shot.
In Hamilton County, district leaders initially asked staff to self report their vaccination status, but many employees chose not to complete the optional survey. Leaders shifted their approach and reached out to the Tennessee Department of Health about using the state’s existing immunization information system, known as TennIIS, to determine the district’s staff vaccination rate. Working together, Hamilton County and the health department established a straightforward process by which the district provided the state with a spreadsheet listing the names, birthdates, employment classifications, and other identifying information for all Hamilton County staff. Using this data, the health department calculates the staff vaccination rate and sends it to the district on a weekly basis.
The case study notes that the district is able to track its overall staff vaccination rate, but does not receive information on individual employees’ vaccination status. In addition, the study outlines key lessons from Hamilton County and provides resources for school systems that are interested in working with their local and state health departments to determine actual staff vaccination rates.
To access the case study and a variety of other reopening resources and tools, visit the Schools and COVID-19 microsite here.