Vaccinating educators against COVID-19 is a critical step toward reopening schools for in-person instruction. But the process is tricky, especially since states are all handling vaccine rollouts differently. The Biden administration issued a plan on January 21 to give some guidance, speed up vaccination efforts, and provide funds needed to get the job done. Only time will tell whether or not the plan will prove effective.
In the meantime, we at Shaped did some digging to get answers to frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and its impact on schools. We spoke with Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA advisory panel that approved emergency use of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines, along with Dan Domenech, executive director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA). Here’s what they had to say.
When can teachers get the COVID vaccine?
Rollout procedures vary across the country. In Virginia and New York, for example, teachers fall into the Phase 1B classification of vaccine eligibility—near the top of the list, behind frontline health care workers and nursing home residents. But other states, Florida and Texas for instance, have not determined when teachers will be vaccinated.
“We were happy to see that many states did put teachers in that higher priority, and indeed, in many states, teachers are already being vaccinated,” Domenech (AASA) says.
“But there are other states that have not put teachers on that higher priority, and that’s going to be a problem in those areas,” Domenech adds. “As we move into the second semester of the school year, to meet that goal of reopening schools is going to be difficult if the rollout isn’t there as it should be and if teachers are not being vaccinated.”
Note that state vaccination plans are updated often and may change in response to additional Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and federal government guidance. Check your state’s health department website for more information.
Is anything being done to smooth the nationwide rollout?
Domenech expressed hope that the new presidential administration would provide some much-needed guidance for schools and districts across the country. On January 21, President Joe Biden issued a plan to reopen schools that includes speeding up vaccinations and providing additional funding to put safety precautions like screen testing in place. A new COVID-19 response team “will work to ensure that testing materials, support for contact tracing, and vaccinations for teachers are equitably provided to support in-person care and learning," according to the administration.
Are administrators and other school staff also a priority in the vaccine rollout?
The states prioritizing educators in the vaccine rollout are generally doing the same for administrators and other school staff, who frequently come in contact with students, Domenech says. This includes bus drivers, custodians, teacher aides, and food service workers.
Why are educators and school staff considered “high priority” in the vaccine rollout in many states?
Educators should receive priority access “because of the importance of safe, equitable, and effective in-person instruction and support,” according to a statement from the National Education Association (NEA). “There is no replacement for the in-person connection between our students and their educators,” NEA President Becky Pringle said in a statement.
The NEA also cites teachers’ role in bringing nutrition, instructional materials, and remote instruction to students during these challenging times.
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