With several COVID-19 vaccines being fast-tracked for approval, vaccines may be available sometime this month.
“Every single student, educator, and parent in America has spent the past 10 months in a state of anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic and what it’s done to our school communities,” said Becky Pringle, NEA President. “There is no replacement for the in-person connection between our students and their educators. With promises of a vaccine on the horizon, we have a new opportunity to return to an in-person education where every student can thrive – but only if vaccination campaigns are done safely and equitably. America’s educators are working tirelessly every single day to advocate for and create healthy learning spaces for students. NEA is calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local governments to prioritize educators for early access to COVID-19 vaccines.”
NEA believes that educators should receive priority access to COVID-19 vaccines because of the importance of safe, equitable, and effective in-person instruction and support; and our members’ role in delivering nutrition, instructional materials, and remote instruction to our students even when school buildings are closed.
It is important to consider the direct impact of COVID-19 on teachers and staff. A recent study found that 39.8 percent of teachers had “definite” and 50.6 percent had “definite or possible” risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease (with similar results for other school staff), emphasizing the vaccine’s potential importance in protecting teachers and promoting in-person education safely. It seems likely that teachers at highest risk would be vaccinated in Phase 1b.
Across the United States, there are 8,605,000 teachers and staff at elementary and secondary schools; there are also approximately 463,000 people who provide child care services.
The CDC is now considering its final approach to the issue of vaccine recipient priority using a phased implementation. The first phase consists of 2 parts, Phase 1a and 1b. Healthcare providers who work in settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to COVID-19 patients or infectious materials and are unable to work from home are included in Phase 1a. Other essential workers, including those who work in schools, and those at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness are included in Phase 1b.
New Hampshire’s vaccination program is also structured around the concept of a phased response, based on vaccine availability as follows:
- Phase 1: Potentially Limited Doses Available
- Phase 2: Large Number of Doses Available, Supply Likely to Meet Demand
- Phase 3: Likely Sufficient Supply, Slowing Demand
The current New Hampshire vaccine distribution plan places education employees in Phase 2.
Phase 1 of the N. H. plan includes first responders, high-risk health workers, people with underlying health conditions and older adults living in congregate settings. NHDHHS will mostly follow the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control on these priorities with one significant exception.
“Here in New Hampshire we would also like to vaccinate the residents of long-term care facilities up front in Phase 1a,” said Dr. Beth Daly from DHHS.
For Phase 1a, New Hampshire will include older adults living in residential care settings (e.g. nursing homes and assisted living facilities). Other older adults in congregate settings (e.g. senior living complexes, etc.) will be included in Phase 1b. Decisions regarding allocation of vaccine for phases beyond 1a have not yet been firmly established, however, these decisions will be informed by the national guidance and the general approach outlined in the figure above, with some modifications for local circumstances.
However effective and widely used COVID-19 vaccines are, mitigation measures (including face coverings, frequent hand washing, and physical distancing) to reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 will continue to be crucial. Given that studies of the efficacy and safety of a COVID-19 vaccine for use in children lag behind the approval of vaccines for adults, there is likely to be a period of time during which there are high vaccination rates for staff in schools, but students may not yet be able to receive a vaccine. In addition, the full effect of vaccines on transmission and reinfection is not yet clear. Therefore, ensuring the health and safety of the entire school community means that adherence to mitigation measures will continue to be important.
Earlier this fall, NEA provided comments on the “Discussion Draft of the Preliminary Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine” to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, outlining our position on this important topic. Here are a portion of those comments.
My name is Scott DiMauro. I am a high school social studies teacher from Columbus, Ohio, and President of the Ohio Education Association, speaking on behalf of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest professional employee organization committed to advancing the cause of public education.
We strongly support the broadest description of school staff, which includes classroom teachers, librarians, and administrators; paraeducators, custodial staff, and other education support professionals; nurses and other specialized instructional support personnel; and the faculty and other staff in institutions of higher education.
All staff who return to work in education worksites, including schools and campuses, are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection and must be protected from the virus.
We respectfully encourage you to broaden this crucial target by explicitly including faculty and all other workers in institutions of higher education. Indeed, as the discussion draft notes, many professors and other university employees are older or have underlying health conditions. We further urge you to include all education employees in Phase 1b, in recognition of the crucial role these institutions play and the underlying vulnerabilities of many of the employees who work in them. We strongly agree with the draft report’s statement that exposures in school settings are very difficult to control, especially when providing care or education to young children.
We also support the draft’s conclusion that educators who are at higher risk because of age, crowded conditions inside facilities, and other factors should be vaccinated in Phase 1b. As noted above, we urge that all education employees be vaccinated in this phase.
NEA-NH will continue to advocate for the health and safety of our members and students.
“As the pandemic continues and a vaccine seems closer to reality than ever before, the safety of our students, educators, and all their families remains our top priority,” said Tuttle. “We are committed to educating public officials about the impacts their policies and decisions have on public school students and employees through frank and honest discussions in the coming days.”