Teachers, school staff should be among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccine, says AFT’s Weingarten

On Sept. 2, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine hosted an online session to hear public comments on a draft framework that will assist policymakers in planning for equitable allocation of a vaccine against COVID-19. AFT President Randi Weingarten was among dozens of leaders, advocates and citizens who provided input that will inform a study to recommend priority for distribution of the initial supply of COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. The study—undertaken by the Committee on Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus—is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

people in masks
Photo Credit: zoranm

The committee has recommended a four-phased approach to allocate the vaccine. The vaccine will be phased in incrementally so that some will receive it earlier than others. According to the draft, frontline healthcare workers, first responders, people with underlying or chronic conditions that put them at risk, and older adults in nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities will be among the first to get the vaccine. Teachers and school staff would fall into the second phase, along with workers in critical areas like corrections. The vaccine would become more widely available in phases three and four.

“While major efforts are being made to have a significant supply of COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, the committee has been tasked with considering the tough choices that will need to be made for allocating the tightly constrained initial supplies,” said committee co-chair Helene Gayle, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust.

Weingarten applauded the committee for “crafting a vaccine allocation framework built on principles that include transparency, fairness, evidence, equal regard and the mitigation of inequities,” adding, “There’s a lot of fear and confusion right now in the current political environment, and people need a process that they can understand and trust.”

Weingarten acknowledged the initial production of a vaccine would likely be insufficient in quantity to permit everyone to be vaccinated immediately but implored the committee to reconsider placement of educators and school staff in phase two of the plan, asking that they instead be considered for phase one allocation.

“Schools are necessary for maintaining core societal functions,” said Weingarten, noting that teachers and school staff are returning to school buildings for in-person instruction, and some are getting sick with COVID-19 because schools are not reopening safely.

“We have, for example, 25 percent of the educators in high-risk categories. We know that there is a higher number of kids who are being hospitalized from COVID-19. Schools could potentially be superspreaders, and we really need to make sure we don't pit learning versus living, and we are asking you to reconsider putting education in phase two.”

The public comment period will be open until 11:59 p.m. EDT Sept. 4. The committee’s final report, expected early this fall, will include a recommended allocation framework informed by public comments.

[Adrienne Coles]