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Beutner Says LAUSD Schools Are Ready To Distribute Vaccines -- As Soon As They’re Available

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Austin Beutner (left), superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District, takes directions from a school nurse after taking a test for COVID-19 at a press event at Harry Bridges Span School in Wilmington on Sept. 14, 2020. The nation's second-largest school system was announcing the launch of a district-run coronavirus testing system for students, staff and some family members. (Kyle Stokes/KPCC/LAist)
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Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner is pushing for L.A. county officials to approve public school campuses as distribution sites for COVID-19 vaccines.

In his weekly video address Monday, Beutner said local schools are a more viable and convenient alternative than mass vaccination sites.

“There are an average of two Los Angeles Unified schools every square mile -- within an easy walk, bike ride or drive for millions of people from San Fernando to San Pedro,” he said. “Unlike a stadium parking lot, school campuses are built to care for large numbers of people. We have restrooms and space for them to spread out so vaccine recipients can be monitored for adverse reactions.”

Later, in an interview on KPCC’s Airtalk with Larry Mantle, Beutner said the district already has the infrastructure in place to quickly establish schools as vaccination centers.

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“We’re ready to go tomorrow. We’re already licensed by the state. We already have vaccination centers in our schools,” Beutner said. “We’re an institution the public trusts.”

The short-term problem, Beutner acknowledged, is a major shortage of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in L.A. County. Once supply chain issues are resolved, he’s hopeful schools can help address other barriers, such as access, especially in lower-income communities.

“Asking someone — an elderly person — to take two buses, travel across town, wait in line three or four hours for a vaccine? That’s not the best way we can serve people,” Beutner said. “Schools were built right in the middle of the neighborhood.”

LAUSD would need the county’s buy-in to move forward with this plan. After the L.A. County Department of Public Health receives COVID-19 vaccine doses from the state, it has the authority to decide how they’re distributed.

In an interview later in the day with KPCC, Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said wants to include LAUSD in establishing vaccine distribution centers.

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"We're anxious to take them up and host of other folks who are volunteering to help," she said. "We just need more vaccine supply."

Beutner said on AirTalk that LAUSD has already proven itself capable, after distributing millions of free meals during the pandemic, and providing COVID-19 testing for teachers and students. They would just need to train existing school clinicians to administer the vaccines, he said.

Beutner said district administrators have talked through this proposal with Department of Public Health officials for months, but they have yet to reach an agreement.

“I'm more than a little bit frustrated that those discussions haven't led to a clear path," Beutner said. “It’s going to take a while.”

Listen to Austin Beutner's AirTalk interview here:

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UPDATE, Jan. 25, 5 P.M: This story was updated to include remarks from L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

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