Kent County School Superintendent Karen Couch: Kent Pilot file photo by Daniel Menefee

The coronavirus vaccine is expected to be available for Kent County Public School employees in the next three weeks, according to Superintendent Karen Couch, as a slow vaccine rollout plan hampers Maryland’s response to the virus.

Couch, in a Dec. 31 interview, said that her hope was for the vaccine to be distributed to employees at each of the individual schools in the county. A challenge facing the school system is to convince employees that the vaccine is safe and effective. Couch said that informational sessions would be held for employees before the vaccine is distributed.

Couch said that about 60% of employees have indicated that they would be willing to receive the vaccine — the superintendent said that she has set an 80% vaccination rate as the goal.

“I think that providing more information … about the vaccine is going to be to our advantage,” said Couch. “We also hope that now that one category of residents here in the county have received their vaccine, hopefully, word of mouth will also contribute positively to those that were possibly on the fence about getting the vaccine.”

Kent Health Officer William Webb said that the Health Department is working closely with the school system to coordinate how to administer the vaccine but said that the process had to wait until the state gave the go-ahead to move further down the categories of priority for vaccination.

“It all depends on the vaccine supply and that we get the go-ahead from the governor’s office to move into [category] 1-B,” said Webb. “We’re not allowed to move forward into a different category without explicit permission.”

The state is currently in 1-A of its vaccination plan, which prioritizes healthcare workers, nursing home residents and law enforcement and first responders.

While Webb acknowledged that gaining public trust for the vaccine would be a challenge, he agreed that word of mouth will help drum up support for a vaccine that he said is safe.

“I think there is a significant amount of vaccine hesitancy right now — educational sessions only go so far,” said Webb. “I am confident that the regulatory agencies at the federal level have spent a lot of time making sure that this isn’t something that is going to cause more problems than it solves.”

A successful vaccination program for the school system may be a step toward more in-person instruction. Schools had been holding in-person sessions since September, but Couch said the system moved back to entirely remote learning in early December because of problematic coronavirus statistics in the county and case counts in the schools. Between six different school buildings, there have been 25 confirmed cases of the virus since mid-September.

Despite the disruption that the virus has wreaked on the school system, Couch believes that the Kent is in a better position than other school systems in the state.

“The good news for us is that we have had in-person instruction — a lot of the school systems across the bridge have not even begun in-person instruction at all,” said Couch. “So we feel like we’ve made some strides.”