- President Biden is directing every state to vaccinate all educators by end of March to reopen schools.
- The National Education Association applauded the announcement after months of tirelessly advocating for educator priority to keep students, educators, and families safe.
- Even with a vaccinated workforce, however, meeting the CDC's school reopening guidelines will require the critical resources that are a major component of the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan.
In an announcement from the White House on Tuesday, President Joe Biden told the nation he is directing every state to prioritize school employees for the COVID-19 vaccination.
Promising to use the "full authority of the federal government," Biden said the goal is to have every teacher, school staff person, and child care worker receive their first dose of one of the approved vaccines by the end of March.
“With three safe and effective vaccines and increased production, we have the opportunity to address the national need of getting our schools back open safely...Let’s treat in-person learning like the essential service that it is,” Biden said.
"That means getting the central workers - educators, school staff, child care workers - vaccinated immediately."
National Education Association (NEA) President Becky Pringle hailed the announcement. "President Biden heard us—and we applaud his work."
As soon as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in mid-December, NEA immediately called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and individual states to prioritize the 5 million teachers, instructional support personnel, aides, food service and custodial workers, and principals who work in the nation's public schools.
The reason was clear and compelling: Public schools play an outsized role not only in a child's education, health, and safety, but also the nation's economy, and vaccinating educators would expedite the return of in-person learning nationwide. Districts have been under intense pressure from many lawmakers to reopen their school doors, despite little or no progress on staff vaccinations and inadequate resources to fund mitigation efforts.
Last week, NEA sent a letter to the National Governors Association once again urging governors across the country to prioritize teachers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
For the nation's educators, a reckless return to full-time, in-person learning is unacceptable. The stakes were too high for students, particularly those impacted most heavily by the pandemic in Black, Brown Indigenous, and rural communities.
"Every single student, educator, and parent in America has spent the past 11 months in a state of anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic and what it’s done to our school communities," said Pringle. But with the news from the White House on Tuesday, she added, "we have a new opportunity to create safe and just schools for every student."
A National Imperative
Accelerating the vaccinations of the nation's educator will be made possible thanks to the addition of a third vaccination to the nation's arsenal against the pandemic. Over the weekend, the FDA greenlit the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Biden is invoking the Defense Production Act to expedite its production and delivery.
The bottom line: Enough vaccine supply for every adult American by the end of May.
Educator vaccinations have been underway, in varying degrees, in more than 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Despite being eligible, many individuals have confronted roadblocks in the appointment process.
According to a NEA new survey released in February, only one in five educators (18 percent) had been vaccinated. The survey also found 85 percent believe educators should be prioritized and 70 percent said they would feel safer about working in-person as a result of the vaccines.
Biden said he will use the federal pharmacy partnership program, a collaboration between the federal government and retail pharmacies to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, to make the shots accessible to educators, starting next week.
“I want to be very clear,” he cautioned. “Not every educator will be able to get their appointment in the first week. But our goal is to do everything we can to help every educator receive a shot this month... Reopening schools is a national imperative."
The Resources Schools and Students Deserve
The widening availability of safe and effective vaccines could be compromised unfortunately as new variants have emerged and, perhaps more troubling, some states have begun to ease restrictions, including masks mandates and business capacity limits.
Biden urged all Americans to continue these efforts, emphasizing that, despite the very encouraging developments, the crisis is far from over.
For schools, meeting the reopening guidelines laid out by the CDC can be accomplished if they have the resources they deserve.
Safety and mitigation measures to control the virus is a top priority of the administration's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week. The package includes $170 billion in dedicated education funding to support a reopening plan for K-12 schools and college campuses - funds that can be used to reduce class sizes and modify spaces to comply with social distancing, modernize HVAC systems, and hire more school custodians and nurses and counselors and provide personal protective equipment for students and educators.
Pringle is calling on all educators to contact their U.S. senators and urge them to follow the House's lead and quickly approve the American Rescue Plan.
"The vaccine alone won’t solve the challenges our nation’s public-school students and educators are confronting during this pandemic, and a vaccine will not close the gaps exacerbated by this pandemic or the generations of underfunding schools in communities of color," said Pringle. "We need the Senate to pass the rescue plan so we can get students the support and resources they need to ensure schools have the tools needed to meet CDC guidelines and keep our students, educators and schools safe."