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SHOTS AN ARM'S LENGTH AWAY: Although a majority of educators reported in a National Education Association survey that they were planning to get the COVID vaccine, just 18 percent have been vaccinated so far. NEA pushed for educators to be prioritized for vaccinations, while the head of the American Federation of Teachers believed that vaccinating educators quickly was key to school districts being able to have a relatively normal school year in the fall. 

Seventy percent of educators across the nation say they feel will safer working in classrooms if they receive the coronavirus vaccine—but so far, just one in five have actually gotten it, according to a survey by the National Education Association.

The union, which represents more than 3 million school staff, found that 82 percent of educators have not been vaccinated so far. And although large school systems around the country have shifted to remote-learning, 64 percent of Teachers reported that they were working in-person either part-time or full-time.


'We Want to Be Back'

“Educators want nothing more than to be back to in-person learning with our students,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been advocating for the resources to implement CDC-recommended standards and ensure educators are back in person with their students as safely and quickly as possible.”

The results, published Feb. 9, also showed that 70 percent of the 3,400 educators who responded felt that school buildings should remain closed until the majority of staff were vaccinated. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they were having difficulty obtaining a vaccination appointment, and just 18 percent have been vaccinated so far.

Ms. Pringle added that many local school districts lacked testing and tracing programs, as well as other efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as upgraded ventilation systems. Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown low COVID transmission rates in schools that practiced mask-wearing and offered staggered schedules.

“It’s time to fund proven mitigation strategies—and it’s far past time for every Governor to prioritize educator vaccinations,” the union leader stated. 

Reasons for Slow Slog

Although educators were eligible to be vaccinated in about half of the states, some states such as Vermont and Rhode Island have been prioritizing distribution of the vaccine based on age or health conditions rather than by occupation and potential exposure. Combined with the short supply of vaccine doses, these factors have slowed down the vaccination process many educators feel is critical to reopening schools.

So far, more than 1 million vaccinations have been administered citywide. The United Federation of Teachers, which partnered with several health-care providers to speed up the vaccination process for educators, has matched 15,500 members with a provider. As of Feb. 9, 6,400 educators had been given appointments.

“We still need more vaccines,” a union spokeswoman said.

The NEA study also showed some levels of vaccine hesitancy among educators—11 percent reported that they did not want to be vaccinated, while 5 percent were unsure. But an overwhelming number of Teachers—84 percent—said that they had already scheduled an appointment or were preparing to do so.

Backs Off 'Mandatory'

Although many Teachers see the vaccine as key to restoring full-time in-person learning, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, backed off previous statements she made supporting mandatory vaccinations for educators. During a Feb. 9 interview, she said that proving to those who were hesitant that the vaccine works was necessary before school districts begin having discussions about whether vaccinations should be required.

“Personally, I want 100 percent of people to have the vaccine and frankly, I am glad educators are clamoring for it,” Ms. Weingarten said. “I am hopeful that these vaccinations work well enough that we have as normal a year next year as possible, and there’s no one that’s going to be as happy about that as educators.”

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