Letetsia A. Fox, Chapter President Los Angeles 500 of the California School Employees Association, receives her first COVID-19 Moderna shot from Nurse Sosse Bedrossian, Director of Nursing at LAUSD.
Al Seib | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images
President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on states to prioritize vaccinating teachers and school staff against Covid-19 with a goal of giving at least one shot to every educator and staff member across the country by the end of March.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously urged states to give priority to teacher vaccination. However, some public health professionals criticized that vaccination was not a requirement for K-12 schools to reopen.
“Let me be clear, we can reopen schools if the right steps are taken before staff are vaccinated,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. “But time and again we have heard from educators and parents who are concerned about it.”
To expedite the safe reopening of schools, Biden said, “Let’s treat personal learning as the essential service it is, and that means vaccinating key workers who provide that service, educators, school staff and child carers.” . ”
“My challenge for all states, territories and the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school worker and childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of March,” he added.
Biden said he will use the federal pharmacy partnership established with retail pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens to expand access to Covid-19 vaccines and make the shots available to teachers and school staff before K-12. This would enable these workers to obtain the vaccine in states where they do not meet local approval requirements.
His statement is the strongest appeal yet and the most ambitious timeline the federal government has tabled for states to give priority to educators and school staff, although that is not the mandate for it. Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, welcomed the president’s remarks as a concrete step in reopening schools for personal learning.
“What an enormous relief to have a president who can cope with this moment of crisis,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Vaccinations are an essential ingredient in safely reopening schools. This is the administration taking steps to expedite vaccination for educators. This is great news for anyone looking to study in school.”
With the doses of the Covid-19 vaccines still scarce, states are handing them out to prioritized groups, mostly key frontline workers, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. While the CDC makes recommendations as to which groups should receive the vaccine first, states ultimately make their own decisions.
The CDC has recommended that teachers be vaccinated in the Phase 1b group, which includes everyone over the age of 75, as well as “key people on the front lines”. However, some states have excluded teachers and school staff from their definition of the main frontline workforce.
Although the country’s top health authority recommends states give priority to vaccination teachers, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explains that unvaccinated teachers shouldn’t be an obstacle to schools reopening. She said if schools follow public health precautions set by the CDC, teachers and staff can safely return to face-to-face learning.
However, based on the parameters set by the CDC, about 90% of schools in the country are in significant counties where the CDC says it is not safe for schools to fully reopen to face-to-face learning.