Vaccine rollout reaches teachers
Education | Uneven distribution and limited supplies mean it could be a while before classes go back to normal
by Esther Eaton
Posted 1/20/21, 02:54 pm
Starting shortly after noon on Jan. 14, teachers in Mariposa County, Calif., rolled up their sleeves in an elementary school for their first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Now that the rural county has inoculated most of its healthcare workers, it is moving on to educators, who have worked in-person since October. About 70 percent of the school district’s staff have signed up for their first dose, according to Superintendent Jeff Aranguena.
State officials, administrators, and educators are eager to get teachers vaccinated and return to more normal, in-person classes as quickly as possible. By mid-January, at least some teachers in 12 states were eligible to receive a COVID-19 shot, EducationWeek reported. But distribution is uneven across the country’s school districts. Efforts have begun in hopes of getting back to school as usual by the fall.
Children catch and spread COVID-19 less often than adults, allowing some schools to reopen when other gatherings remained off-limits. But some schools have been forced to go remote after outbreaks among teachers and other personnel caused staffing shortages. Vaccinating educators could prevent similar closures and provide protection if more contagious strains of COVID-19 spread among students.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines to help officials decide when different groups of people can access the country’s limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, but each state has its own protocols. Most are offering shots to healthcare workers and nursing home residents in the first wave, with teachers and other essential workers next in line. But execution isn’t consistent even within a single state. Teachers in Prince William County, Va., complained after their district fell behind and those in neighboring Fairfax County, who were teaching fewer in-person classes, got the shots first.
As long as the COVID-19 vaccines only have emergency use authorization, employees like teachers have the right to refuse them. Once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants full approval, schools may require teachers to be immunized, though they would have to offer religious and health exemptions in most cases. For now, schools are relying on teachers to choose to get the shot. Joe Haas, executive director of the North Carolina Christian School Association, predicted private schools will leave the decision to parents and teachers.
With limited doses, it may be months before most teachers receive a shot. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said that, after widespread vaccination, schools could return to normal in the fall.
“I think we could be in good shape, and so I am cautiously optimistic that we can do that and get back to some form of normality,” he said. “It’s extremely important to get children back into school and kept in school, and the idea of vaccinating teachers is very high up in the priority.”
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