Atlanta schools push for teacher vaccines, though some staff are wary

Registered nurse Aleve Reed administers a COVID-19 vaccine during an event on Jan. 16, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray /

Credit: Ben Gray /

Registered nurse Aleve Reed administers a COVID-19 vaccine during an event on Jan. 16, 2021, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Atlanta Public Schools’ leaders are making the case for COVID-19 vaccinations after more than 40% of district employees who responded to a recent survey said they are hesitant or unwilling to get the shots.

Of the 3,766 survey participants, 719 said they would not take the vaccine. Another 915 said they weren’t sure about it, according to results obtained this week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open-records request. APS employs more than 6,000 people. Officials said vaccines will be highly encouraged but not required.

On Wednesday, the district held an educational session featuring medical experts and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to stress the vaccine’s safety and importance for everyone, including educators.

“I know that there’s been hesitancy when it comes to getting a vaccine, and that’s understandable. It’s new. There are historical reasons for many to distrust our public health system. And who likes to get a shot?” said Bottoms, in a pre-recorded video message that started the meeting.

But, she said, the pandemic disrupted schools and loved ones are dying.

“That’s why getting the vaccine is so important. If you are eligible, please get the vaccine,” she said.

In a January survey of Atlanta Public Schools' employees, about half said they planned to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution received the survey results through an open-records request.

Credit: Atlanta Public Schools

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Credit: Atlanta Public Schools

APS reported just over 450 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff since late August. For the week ending Feb. 12, the district reported 28 employee and 6 student cases.

Just over half of APS staffers who participated in the survey said they plan to take the vaccine. Only 149 employees who responded said they already were vaccinated or had an appointment to get vaccinated by mid-January, when the survey was conducted.

Atlanta school employees aren’t the only ones feeling leery. DeKalb County officials said many police and fire employees aren’t vaccinated yet. And in a recent poll conducted for the AJC, 34% of registered Georgia voters reported reluctance to get the vaccine.

For those unwilling, the reasons are rooted in distrust of the health system and a desire to first see how well the vaccine works, according to the poll.

In the case of teachers, vaccine availability emerged as an issue in school reopening debates. APS began resuming in-person learning in late January, even as some teachers protested that classes should remain online until educators can be vaccinated.

Superintendent Lisa Herring said APS continues to ask state officials to open vaccinations for teachers. Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday said state officials are finalizing plans to expand eligibility criteria for vaccines, though he did not announce a timeline for teachers.

He said the state officials surveyed Georgia school districts and found about 45% of 171,000 employees who responded would chose to be vaccinated.

In more than half of the states, all or some teachers are eligible to get the vaccine. In Georgia, officials moved about a million older residents higher up in the vaccine rollout, delaying the turn for teachers.

Kemp, in a Feb. 4 letter to the Atlanta school board, said there isn’t enough vaccine supply to begin inoculating teachers at that time. He wrote that schools can still reopen with safety measures in place.

Herring told a group of North Atlanta parents and principals on Wednesday that APS plans to partner with public health officials to provide vaccines once they are available. She said APS identified a large space where they can vaccinate teachers.

“What we’ve been able to control, we’ve controlled for,” she said, during the parent meeting.

APS is asking employees by email this week to opt in or out of the vaccine. The replies will determine how many vaccines need to be secured.

Watch now! APS Conversations: COVID-19 and the Vaccine

Posted by Atlanta Public Schools on Wednesday, February 17, 2021

During Wednesday’s vaccine discussion, APS Police Chief Ronald Applin recounted how he researched the vaccine before receiving his two doses. He said he felt tired after the first shot, but he urged everyone to get vaccinated.

“I survived it. It wasn’t, you know, as bad as some people say,” he said.

Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean for the Emory School of Medicine, said officials must listen to and answer questions from those who are skeptical.

“The reality is every person we turn around and we convince, that go from hesitancy to accepting the vaccine, is one … more person we have in our road to herd immunity,” he said.

Atlanta Public Schools vaccine survey

3,766 employees responded to a district survey in January about the COVID-19 vaccine. Their responses are as follows.

Already taken vaccine: 3.4%

Vaccine appointment scheduled: 0.56%

Planning to take vaccine: 52.66%

Not sure about taking vaccine: 24.3%

Will not take vaccine: 19.09%

Source: APS