President Joe Biden called for states on March 2 to prioritize getting teachers at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month, even as he acknowledged that schools can be reopened without educators and child care workers getting a vaccine.
“Let me be clear: We can reopen schools if the right steps are taken, even before employees are vaccinated. But time and again, we’ve heard from educators and parents that they have anxieties about that,” Biden said in remarks from the White House.
“So as yet another move to help accelerate the safe reopening of our schools, let’s treat in-person learning like an essential service that it is. And that means getting essential workers who provide that service—educators, school staff, child care workers—get them vaccinated immediately. They’re essential workers.”
Teachers’ unions across the country have pushed for officials to make COVID-19 vaccines available to teachers before making them return to classrooms for in-person learning, even as studies indicate and officials say vaccinations aren’t required to safely reopen schools.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as SARS-CoV-2.
According to the White House, more than 30 states have taken steps to prioritize teachers and other educators for vaccination. Biden urged others to do the same.
“My challenge to all states, territories, and the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school staff member, and child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March,” he said, adding that his administration would use its federal pharmacy program to prioritize vaccinating pre-K through 12th-grade workers, as well as others who spend time with children for their jobs.
The request is another sign of how much sway unions have with Biden, whose administration consulted them before issuing school reopening guidelines last month, which critics said set unrealistic standards for resuming in-person teaching.
Former President Donald Trump told a crowd in Florida over the weekend that schools should be fully open by now.
“The only reason that most parents do not have that choice is because Joe Biden has sold out America’s children to the teacher’s unions,” he said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a national teachers union, praised Biden for the announcement.
“What a tremendous relief to have a president who is meeting this moment of crisis. Vaccinations are a key ingredient to reopening schools safely, and this is the administration taking the steps to ramp up vaccinations for educators, which is great news for everyone who wants in-school learning,” she said in a statement.
Nearly 45 percent of K–12 students in the United States have returned to in-person, five-day-a-week classes as of Feb. 28, according to Burbio, a research group. Another 27.8 percent are attending in-person schooling on some days.
The CDC’s advisory panel recommended that states prioritize first vaccinating health care and long-term care facility personnel, followed by people 75 or older and front-line essential workers, defined as essential workers “likely at highest risk for work-related exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, because their work-related duties must be performed on-site and involve being in close proximity (<6 feet) to the public or to coworkers.”
The third set of groups recommended for prioritization were people 65 to 74, people 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions, and essential workers not included in the previous phases.
The recommendations are nonbinding but were widely followed across many states, except for some that chose to elevate the elderly because that population is especially vulnerable to COVID-19.