Long before President Biden announced his goal to have 70 percent of the population vaccinated before July 4, AFT affiliates nationwide were creating opportunities for their members and the communities they serve to get vaccinations at no cost. The locals are expected to continue their efforts throughout the summer and into the start of the school year.
In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers partnered with EmblemHealth AdvantageCare Physicians and New York University Langone Health to ensure teachers and staff could get vaccinated once they became eligible based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.
The partnership allowed more than 35,000 members to get vaccinated. “It was a tremendous effort and quite a success,” says Ellie Engler, executive assistant to the UFT president.
Now that students between the ages of 12 and 17 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, the UFT has recently partnered with New York City and MetroPlusHealth to get them vaccinated. In early June, the partners held a vaccination clinic at Bronx Writing Academy. Although the event came together quickly, the clinic provided more than 100 vaccinations to young people, their families and community members. Engler attributes the successful turnout to the fact that the event was held at a community school. “It felt welcoming to people,” she says.
The union expects to conduct a few more vaccination clinics this summer and at the beginning of the school year. “We’ve been working with the city, and we have great partners,” Engler says. “And now we have an outline on how to do it.”
“Every single vaccine given is a step in the right direction for our schools and our future. We’re moving our staff, families and schools forward by offering this program,” says Trisha Arnold, a UFT staff member who helped with the effort. “I hope this gives us a return to normalcy so we can get back to doing what we do best, which is educating kids.”
The Chicago Teachers Union secured vaccinations for staff, students and family members as part of its reopening agreement with Chicago Public Schools. In the last six weeks, CTU has partnered with the school system to hold vaccine events at schools in communities hardest hit by COVID-19. Nearly 1,000 people—many of whom are students age 12 and older—have been vaccinated thanks to the efforts of the union and members who volunteered to help with the events.
Michael Smith, a history teacher at Englewood STEM High School, volunteered at five vaccination sites. Smith says the push by CTU to get something done in the community motivated him to get involved. “I felt like having a voice, but speaking up about the need for people to get the vaccine wasn’t enough. I decided volunteering was appropriate; that’s why I got involved.”
Smith was on hand to set up tables, monitor people after the vaccine, and register them for the second dose. “It was a real simple process. The people who were there appreciated it because it was accessible, and they had people they knew who could talk to them and answer their questions. I do believe that having people from the community helped to calm some of the fears of people who were on the fence about getting vaccinated,” he says.
Smith is also pleased about the union’s involvement. “Someone had to put the pressure on the city to do the responsible thing,” he says. “This is a concern of the workers, the students, the families we serve. And we have to address it. We want to be back in school, but most importantly, we want our students to be in school, and this is probably the easiest way to do it.”