Around 70% of Jefferson County Public Schools' (JCPS) more than 18,000 employees have signed up to be vaccinated from the coronavirus throughout the “Phase 1b” wave of Kentucky vaccinations, based on the district. However, more than 5,400 employees either declined the vaccine or did not react to the vaccination survey.

Employees at K-12 schools are among the first groups in line for that limited way to obtain coronavirus vaccines, after long-term care facility residents and frontline healthcare personnel. Gov. Andy Beshear has said Phase 1b, which includes K-12 staff, quickly 70 and first responders, could begin as soon as late January. The governor has stated he believes vaccinating school staff ought to be a priority so that schools can reopen to in-person classes.

Following a state directive, JCPS sent a survey in December to all employees, including contractors and substitute teachers, asking whether they plan to receive the vaccine. Legal staff for the Kentucky Department of Education say under federal law, schools and districts cannot require employees to take the vaccine. But district and state leaders are highly encouraging vaccination.

According to JCPS, 12,884 employees signed up to receive the vaccine, 1,900 declined and more than 3,500 did not complete laptop computer, that the district interprets as declining the vaccine.

“We inundated employees with daily emails, texts along with other communication to respond to laptop computer by Dec. 30 using the clear understanding that if they didn't respond, they would be counted as declining vaccination through JCPS,” JCPS spokesman Mark Hebert wrote to WFPL News within an email.

Under a Dec. 18 executive order from Beshear, school districts do not have to accommodate employees' requests for remote work if they refuse the vaccine, unless there is a health problem that the CDC or FDA says would prevent them from taking it. There aren't many instances in which the CDC recommends against using the vaccine, however they have an allergy to the ingredient in the COVID vaccine.

The CDC does note that for pregnant and breastfeeding women, there are “few data around the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, including mRNA vaccines,” but that “based on current knowledge” mRNA vaccines are “unlikely to pose a danger.” The company stops short of making a recommendation one way or the other, advising instead that women that are pregnant speak with their physician and make a personal decision.

“When making a decision, pregnant people and their healthcare providers should consider the amount of COVID-19 community transmission, a person's personal chance of contracting COVID-19, the risks of COVID-19 towards the patient and potential risks to the fetus, the efficacy of the vaccine, the side results of the vaccine and the insufficient data about the vaccine while pregnant,” guidance reads.

It isn't clear whether JCPS will allow pregnant or breastfeeding women to work remotely if they refuse the vaccine. Nor is it clear the way the potential 70% immunization rate will impact intends to reopen.

Asked about these questions, Hebert said vaccinations will be one of many topics throughout the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night.