Educators Need the COVID-19 Vaccine

Scientists say teacher vaccinations can help safely open schools.

Posted Dec 08, 2020

It’s extremely rare for a child to die of this virus, so it’s the teachers that you need to vaccinate
– Dr. Paul Offit, member of FDA’s vaccine advisory panel (NY Times)

Teachers are the glue holding the school systems together in the United States. I am constantly humbled, and grateful for their level of sacrifice, commitment, and courage to heed the calling to be an educator. It is not an easy row to hoe. Education Minnesota recently reported 30% of their educators want to quit, which is understandable considering the unimaginable stressors they are under – whether it’s teaching their own child remotely at home, while conducting a class, and doing their best to engage students remotely who are oftentimes dealing with their mounting stress.

The bigger question is: How can we alleviate teacher stress in today’s global, and financial health crisis? One answer, for me, is to put them high up on the list of individuals who can access the COVID-19 vaccination, especially as they are crucial to reopening in-person education, and have stuck-it-out in remote learning enabling many parents the space to continue working – keeping their lives, and livelihoods going.

Experts Say

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommends K-12 teachers receive the vaccine right after front-line health workers, and those with underlying conditions (for example, cancer) or comorbid conditions (as oftentimes found in nursing homes, for example). Of course, this seems reasonable, but I would urge decision-makers to do everything they can to streamline the vaccine for educators, since they are – literally, keeping schools open (to the best of their ability), and allowing parents to work, which is keeping the economy open.

Since we are clearly not paying our educators their truth worth yet, we need to at the very least show them our appreciation by valuing their contribution in this challenging time. One way to do that is giving them access to this vaccine, which can save their lives – especially while early research suggests that young children may be asymptomatic spreaders (JAMA, 2020).

When NPR host Rachel Martin inquired with Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading US Infectious Disease expert, about if teachers should be top of the list for vaccination access, he replied, “Oh, Absolutely” (NPR, 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a COVID-19 vaccination playbook with educators being in the next phase (1b), but again – this is theoretical, and hopefully states can unite to agree on the enormous value of teachers, and demonstrate their commitment to keeping them healthy, especially as coming back to a “new educational normal” in best case scenario, will take months – if not years.

Reopening Schools

With more than 3.7 million teachers in the United States, the impact of vaccinating this group is tremendous because it means – schools can safely reopen (per Dr. Fauci with teacher vaccinations) and educational losses can be addressed sooner, rather than later. World Health Organization (WHO) stated it was more likely teacher COVID-19 infections came from children older than 10, or other adults, so vaccinating this group minimizes this risk (WHO, 2020). Imagine a small teacher lounge where educators, and administrators are discussing students – there’s just no easy way to get around being close to each other, but through vaccination risks are reduced. Of course, I realize this is a complex issue, but my recommendation is that we place educators at the top of the list for vaccinations. It seems – after this year, it’s the least we can do.

References

CDC Covid-19 Vaccination Program Interim Playbook (October 29, 2020). Version 2. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/imz-managers/downloads/COVID-19-Vaccination-Program-Interim_Playbook.pdf

Education Minnesota (Oct 12, 2020). Survey of educators finds nearly one-third are considering leaving the profession due to stress, overwhelming workload https://educationminnesota.org/news/media-resources/news-releases/Survey-of-educators-finds-nearly-one-third-conside

National Academies Releases Framework for Vaccine https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2020/10/national-academies-release-framework-for-equitable-allocation-of-a-covid-19-vaccine-for-adoption-by-hhs-state-tribal-local-and-territorial-authorities

MGH News and Public Affairs (August 20, 2020). The Harvard Gazette Children’s Role in Spread of Virus Bigger Than Thought https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/08/looking-at-children-as-the-silent-spreaders-of-sars-cov-2/

DeBliasi, R and Delaney, M (August 28, 2020). Symptomatic and asymptomatic viral shedding in pediatric patients infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2770149

Fottrell, Q. (Sept 10, 2020). Asymptomatic children who contract COVID-19 may ‘shed’ coronavirus for weeks. Market Watch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/as-schools-reopen-amid-covid-19-pandemic-how-long-do-asymptomatic-children-remain-contagious-11599043219

Nierenberg, A and Pasick, A (2020). Reopening Schools Before a Children’s Vaccine. New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/04/us/children-vaccine-teachers-schools-reopen-coronavirus.html

NPR (2020). Vaccinations to prevent COVID-19 could begin next month. Interview with Dr. Fauci by Rachel Martin. Transcript found here: https://www.npr.org/2020/11/17/935655818/vaccinations-against-covid-19-could-begin-next-month-fauci-says

Strong, A and Welburn, J. (Nov 19, 2020). Teachers Should Get the Covid Vaccine First. Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-should-get-the-covid-vaccine-first-11605809192

World Health Organization (WHO) (2020). What we know about Covid-19 transmissions in schools. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/risk-comms-updates/update39-covid-and-schools.pdf?sfvrsn=320db233_2