Teacher Vaccine Eligibility Expands While Supply Lags
(Bloomberg) -- Within weeks, teachers in most U.S. states will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccines. It’s unclear whether school openings will follow as promised or whether supply can keep up with demand.
As of Feb. 28, teachers were eligible in 34 states. Nine more states are expected to follow in March and two soon after, bringing the total to 45, Bloomberg data shows. That adds pressure to reopen school systems that have resisted until educators are protected.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said vaccinating teachers isn’t a prerequisite for reopening schools, but some unions have resisted. State struggles over whom to prioritize come as the Biden administration says in-person learning is a priority, as well as a key step in the economic recovery.
“This is a piece of the slow pandemic melt,” said Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University in Rhode Island. “It’s not that the day teachers are vaccinated, that everything is going to be totally regular and cool again. In practice, what will happen if we prioritize teachers for vaccines and more teachers are vaccinated, we will see more school openings, but it will be slow.”
Many students have been learning online since schools were shut a year ago to control the spread of the coronavirus: As of Feb. 28, 55% of kindergarten through 12th-grade students were still attending remote school or a hybrid program, down from 70% in January, according to Burbio, a website that tracks reopenings.
CDC guidance urges vaccination for teachers and staff “as soon as supply allows.” As of Friday, 34 states had made at least some teachers eligible, though many educators may be waiting for weeks. The Bloomberg tally doesn’t account for states where teachers have gotten the shots because they met other distribution criteria, such as age or health issues.
Teachers are essential workers, but “from a logistics perspective, there’s still not enough vaccines being distributed to take care of everyone who’s in that category, across all the states,” said Jodie Guest, professor and vice chair of the department of epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta.
Come March 1, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Mississippi teachers join the priority list. Georgia is expected to follow a week later, followed by New Jersey and Missouri the next week. Teachers 50 and older could soon be eligible in Florida, and are next in line in New Hampshire, South Dakota, New Mexico and South Carolina.
In Wisconsin, teachers are the first priority in a group of 700,000 newly eligible residents. The state has been administering about 90,000 doses a week. Some teachers may not get the vaccine until early April, according to state officials. “We are asking everyone to practice patience,” Karen Timberlake, interim secretary of the state Health Services Department, said in a Feb. 25 statement.
New York state made teachers eligible in January, but warned it could take months to inoculate them all. In September, New York City was the only major U.S. city to resume in-person learning after delays to address the teachers unions’ concerns about staffing, testing and safety. The system switched to all-remote in November after cases surged, and has slowly reopened with weekly testing of staff and students.
About 30,000 New York City educators have gotten shots so far, the Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Feb. 24. There are roughly 75,000 teachers, plus thousands of paraprofessionals and others.
“Even putting the most positive spin on the city’s numbers, there are tens of thousands of staff who have not yet had access to the vaccine,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
States are counting on shortages to ease as Moderna and Pfizer increase production, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine hits the market and the Biden administration pledges to continue increasing allocations to states. In the U.S., 75 million doses have been administered so far, including 50 million since Joe Biden became president.
The nation’s daily rate of vaccination is beginning to accelerate after winter storms caused delivery delays. The nation recorded 2.4 million doses on Feb. 27, more than double the number a week earlier, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
Just five states -- Washington, Texas, Montana, Massachusetts, and Indiana -- haven’t yet made teachers eligible or announced concrete dates for doing so. Still, most schools in Montana and Texas are open for daily in-person learning, as are many in Indiana. In New Jersey, Massachusetts and Washington, a majority of schools are teaching virtually.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Monday that teachers and childcare workers will be eligible for vaccines on March 15. Currently, shots are available to health-care workers, people over 65, first responders, residents and workers of long-term care facilities, and residents ages 16-64 with certain medical conditions.
But even with teachers vaccinated, schools will likely maintain levels of both in-person and remote learning, said Brian Marks, an economics professor at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
“A vaccine is not the golden ticket to revert to pre-Covid-economic activity,” he said.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.