As vaccine rollout continues, educators in Massachusetts have struggled to find vaccine appointments, raising questions about whether the state’s strategy is fair to teachers. In a School Committee meeting on March 9th, Committee Member Susan Bell publicly asked, “Why in a state like Connecticut can teachers get their vaccinations right on sight, and our teachers have to schedule time off of work to go get their vaccinations in Massachusetts.” As the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has mandated a return of five day in-school instruction next month, officials like Bell, who had served as a Superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools, are asking if teachers are being given enough priority. She says, “if it’s that important that teachers need to be here and our kids need to be here, then why can’t we make it available to them on site?” Superintendent Dr. Marty O’Shea agreed that “it’s very hard for an educator to take time out of their day to schedule [an appointment]” and that “it’s hard [for a teacher] to watch a screen refresh while you’re trying to teach students at home and in person.” At a virtual town hall Thursday March 18th, State Senator Eric Lesser, who represents Longmeadow, endorsed the idea of on-site administration, “We need to do more to get vaccines to teachers.”
This is a distribution strategy that other states have successfully used. Many districts in Connecticut are setting up clinics to specifically target educators and deliver their vaccinations. Karen Grant is a teacher at Darcey School in Cheshire, CT. She is among 400 of the 800 administrators in their school district who received her first vaccine shot. The clinic was held on Tuesday, March 9th. “It was a remote learning day for the entire district, allowing the teachers to have class until their given appointment time,” she explains. “There were more than 30 volunteers helping to distribute the vaccines. All we had to do was fill out a survey stating that we wanted to receive the vaccine, and our names were put on a waiting list.” Ms. Grant is thrilled to be vaccinated after many months of waiting.
“The governor’s contention that we can’t do on-site/work-site administration is certainly not true,” says Sen. Lesser. As an example, Sen. Lesser points out that police, firefighters, nursing home staff, seniors at public housing complexes, and hospital workers were all vaccinated largely by on-site clinics overseen by the state.
However, teachers’ luck could soon improve. On March 10th a pre-registration tool was introduced for vaccine appointments in Massachusetts. With this tool residents can sign up to receive a notification when they become eligible for the vaccine and when an appointment for them is available. For teachers to be vaccinated four dates were set aside: March 27, April 3, April 10 and April 11.
Vaccine distribution also happens on the federal level, with a separate vaccine supply given to pharmacies like CVS, who follow federal regulation. As the Biden administration has called for a return of Elementary and Middle school in-person instruction around the country, the Centers for Disease Control has made teachers eligible and prioritized for vaccination at pharmacies. “This is something I applaud [the administration] for doing,” says Sen. Lesser who is also an LHS graduate.Teachers are relieved to hear the process will be much more efficient following this announcement. Dr. Victoria Metz, a Biology teacher at LHS, shares her thoughts on the importance of the vaccination of teachers. She says, “In deciding who gets to be vaccinated first after front lines medical professionals and first responders, there are two legitimate, competing claims. The people who are most at risk of serious disease or death should be a priority. These are the people the Governor chose to put first in line.” She explains, “ However, I believe people who are required to work in person in crowded places, and whose jobs are central to the well being of the rest of the population, should also be top priority. There was room for the state to do this.” Although the death rate is much lower for people under 65, there are many other factors to consider. “Even a mild case of COVID-19 appears to have the ability in some people to produce long term and even possibly permanent damage.” Dr. Metz says, “there are new variants of the virus that spread more easily. We can no longer have complete confidence that the precautions we put into place in September will still protect us as well in the present and future as they did in the fall.”