“When will teachers get the vaccine?” “When will schools reopen?” Both of these talking points have been year-round points of discussion during the coronavirus pandemic. After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a worldwide pandemic on March 11, 2020, all K-12 public schools across the United States stopped offering in-person learning, and many pivoted to online classes for the rest of the school year. Now, over a year later, efforts are being made for schools to reopen safely and as soon as possible. In this blog post, we discuss these efforts and the importance of teachers, childcare workers, and school employees getting vaccinated.
At the beginning of his presidency, U.S. President Joe Biden said that reopening most K–8 schools within the first 100 days of his administration was a primary goal. To achieve this promise, he said he would aim to provide funds and resources like contact tracing, wide access to testing, sanitation, and increased ventilation in schools.
On March 2nd, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the eligibility of all K-12 teachers, school officials, and childcare workers nationwide to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. With this news, President Biden stated that enough vaccine supply would be provided to states and local communities to vaccinate educators, school staff, and childcare workers as quickly as possible through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. This program for COVID-19 vaccination is “a collaboration between the federal government, states, and territories, and 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks to increase access to COVID-19 vaccination across the United States.”
The program is being implemented across the country based on the daily availability of COVID-19 vaccine supply, with select locations administering the vaccines to those who are eligible, prioritizing all school staff and childcare workers. The ultimate goal is to expand to the tens of thousands of pharmacies across the U.S. as the vaccine supply increases over time.
In mid-February 2021, White House officials stated that teacher inoculation was not a requirement for schools to reopen safely. However, President Biden stated that teachers should have a higher priority in the vaccine rollout. His goal was that “every educator, school staff member, childcare worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March.”
Regardless of previous federal guidelines, some states decided to prioritize educational and childcare workers within Phase 1 of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. As of mid-February 2021, 38 states across the country, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, allowed school workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Although teachers were eligible to receive the vaccine in some states, many teachers are still facing delays in scheduling appointments due to either vaccine supply shortages, challenging rollout logistics, or a mix of both.
These efforts to prioritize vaccination for school educators and staff will allow students, parents, and teachers to regain the benefits of in-person education. Throughout the global COVID-19 pandemic, students have faced unusual academic, social, and emotional challenges due to the changes in learning. Those who have limited circumstances, such as having restricted access to the internet, have been especially challenged during this time. “Children’s ability to read, write, and do basic math has suffered, and the skills they need to thrive in the twenty-first-century economy have diminished,” noted Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF. Despite the educational challenges faced by students and teachers alike, the innovative strategies and efforts used by educators to overcome these challenges is incredibly commendable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teachers, school personnel, child-care workers, and educators who want to get vaccinated should do the following:
Visit the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program website to learn which pharmacies are part of the program in each state. Many of the pharmacy partners are offering online scheduling for those who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in each location. Visit your local pharmacy’s website to make sure you can sign up online.
Check VaccineFinder.org to find nearby COVID-19 vaccination locations.
Contact your state health department’s website to learn more about additional providers in your community.
As mentioned above, the U.S. government is working to reopen the majority of K–8 schools by April. In addition to providing information about teacher vaccination as schools reopen across the U.S., the CDC has also provided a new Operational Strategy for all K-12 schools in States, Tribes, Localities, Territories (STLT) to reopen in the safest and most responsible way possible. These strategies were made to help slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus by preventing in-school transmissions.
As we see “the light at the end of the tunnel” with vaccines rolling out across the U.S., it is essential to keep utilizing effective strategies and to implement new strategies to ensure a safe in-person learning environment for students, teachers, and school personnel.
For adults, this means getting vaccinated. For those under 16, vaccines have not been authorized, so it is critical for schools to continue other mitigation measures. Because of this, the CDC does not consider the COVID-19 vaccine to be a key mitigation strategy in the reopening of schools, but an “additional layer” of protection against COVID-19.
Dr. Jose Romero, the chairperson of CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, is hopeful that children will be able to get the vaccine later this year, but for now, he advises parents “…to see how the studies progress. We need to see that data in order to make sure that [the vaccine] is safe and effective in children.” Until the COVID-19 vaccine is made widely available to children, the CDC recommends the use of masks, proper sanitation and ventilation, and social distancing when possible as schools reopen.
The CDC recommends that school decision-makers consider the level of community transmission and the school’s ability to adhere to key mitigation strategies when deciding whether to reopen and how to safely do so.
According to the new thresholds for community transmission of COVID-19, the CDC suggests using the following ways to measure a community burden:
The number of new cases per 100,000 people within the last 7 days.
The percentage of positive RT-PCR tests –also known as NAATs (Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing), during the last 7 days.
If a school’s community burden is shown to have a high risk of transmission, CDC guidelines can help the schools determine whether they need to add additional mitigation strategies to safely reopen. If the two indicators show different levels of transmission, the CDC suggests that the actions corresponding to the higher threshold should be chosen.
Despite the level of community burden, all schools reopening should strictly follow these mitigation strategies to ensure safe in-person learning for students, teachers, and school staff to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus:
Universal use of masks: Ensure that face coverings are used consistently and correctly by every person within the school, from teachers and administrators to students.
Physical distancing: Maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet.
Handwashing and respiratory etiquette: Make sure that, when washing hands, all students, teachers, and school staff members continuously wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and practice respiratory etiquette such as using the inner elbow to cover their mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities: Clean and disinfect the school facilities constantly, especially frequently-touched surfaces such as doorknobs, sink handles, toilets, school supplies, playground equipment, and drinking fountains.
Contact tracing: Perform contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine of all infected students, teachers, and staff in collaboration with the local health department. Contact tracing is the process of reaching out to people infected with COVID-19 to identify every person they had contact with while infectious, and letting them know that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should monitor their symptoms.
As part of the national efforts that are being made to end the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials say it’s crucial to continue to include teachers, school personnel, and childcare workers in vaccination efforts as part of the nation’s frontline essential workers. This, along with ensuring that schools adhere to the CDC’s key mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and wearing face coverings, will help schools safely reopen their doors.
As COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out nationwide, broad testing is another way to keep yourself and your community healthy and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Curative Inc. and its subsidiary, Curative Management Services LLC, engage with medical entities that provide vaccination services.