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NEA News

NEA: Educators Should Receive Priority Access to COVID Vaccine

We have an opportunity to return to an in-person education where every student can thrive, said NEA President Becky Pringle, but only if vaccination distribution is equitable and education campaigns are transparent.
teacher with facemask
Published: 12/09/2020

Key Takeaways

  1. Support is building to prioritize the 5 million teachers, instructional support personnel, aides, food service and custodial workers who serve our students.
  2. NEA says vaccinating educators will expedite the return of in-person learning nationwide.
  3. Educator voice and expertise will be critical to help promote safety, transparency and equity around the vaccine distribution.

As the United States suffers through its worst coronavirus surge yet, very encouraging news emerged in recent weeks about the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. Almost one year after the virus was first detected in the United States, Food and Drug Administration approval of several vaccines is imminent.

The national focus on the long and painstaking medical research and development process now shifts to final evaluations of vaccine safety and effectiveness when planning to administer dosages to 350 million people (which will be free and available to everyone, vows President-Elect Joe Biden).

The initial supply, however, is going to be severely limited, and the rollout is going to take at least several months. Even though selecting who gets the vaccine first is a critical but delicate task, a widespread consensus quickly emerged around the urgent need to vaccinate frontline health care workers and residents in senior care facilities, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on December 1.

Support is now building to prioritize the 5 million teachers, instructional support personnel, aides, food service and custodial workers, and principals who serve 50 million children in the nation's public schools.

The National Education Association (NEA) is calling on the CDC and state and local authorities to prioritize educators for vaccine access. The CDC earlier categorized educators and school staff as a group at “increased risk of infection” and "thus one of the critical populations that should receive priority in initial phases when vaccine supply is limited,” according to an NEA position statement released last week.

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 will expedite the return of in-person learning nationwide, said NEA President Becky Pringle.

"Every single student, educator, and parent in America has spent the past 10 months in a state of anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic and what it’s done to our school communities. There is no replacement for the in-person connection between our students and their educators."

‘Trusted Messenger’

Many health and infectious disease experts agree that school staff should be among the first to be vaccinated. Because the vaccine will likely not be made available to most children until well in the next year, making sure teachers and others are among the first to be vaccinated is critical.

In November, NEA was one of 11 national organizations (including the National PTA and the American School Boards Association) to advocate for this move in a joint letter to the CDC, stating that the prompt vaccination of educators can expedite the full, in-person reopening of the nation's schools.

Educator voice and expertise has been indispensable at all stages of this crisis - the sudden school closures and transition to remote learning, keeping lines of communication open with families, demanding comprehensive safety protocols and new funding before reopening, and now the critically important role in helping promote safety, transparency and equity around the vaccine distribution.

"These shutdowns profoundly affect our families as well as our local economies," the groups wrote. "Most parents either cannot work, are forced to work and leave children unattended, or are trying to juggle working from home with childcare. We know that student learning has declined, more children are now living in poverty, and too many students are dealing with mental health issues, food and housing insecurity, abuse or neglect, or sickness or death of loved ones. Our students need to come back to school safely, educators want to welcome them back, and no one should have to risk their health to make this a reality."

The organizations also said prioritizing educators would engender confidence and trust in the nationwide vaccination effort. 

"The education community could be a ‘trusted messenger’ to help ease anxieties and increase the trust factor," the letter said. According to recent public opinion polls, educators and administrators  are some of the most trusted members of the community.

Safely and Equitably

NEA is also calling on the CDC and other government leaders to specifically address the disproportionate suffering across the nation in their vaccine distribution planning and evidence-based campaigns.

The pandemic has effected everyone, but it has been particularly dire in rural areas and communities of color, where economic hardships and limited access to health services have lead to higher infection and death rates and steeper and more permanent job losses

According to the CDC, African Americans are nearly three times more likely than Whites to die from COVID due to health-care disparities, preexisting conditions and increased exposure at the workplace in jobs deemed essential. And while they make up about 17 percent of the population, Latinos have accounted for 24 percent of COVID deaths and face high rates of infection than the general population.

covid hospitalizations
Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"Vaccine distribution planning and evidence-based vaccination campaigns must specifically address the disproportionate suffering in communities of color and must account for vaccine hesitancy based on historical abuses and exploitation of communities of color," said the NEA policy statement.

The trust educators have earned could also pay great dividends in communicating and working with these communities that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, said Pringle. "NEA, our members and affiliates will be partnering with civic organizations, community leaders and families to share relevant and scientifically-sound information on vaccines to help promote use among communities of color."

Educator voice and expertise has been indispensable at all stages of this crisis - the sudden school closures and transition to remote learning, keeping lines of communication open with families, demanding comprehensive safety protocols and new funding before reopening, and now the critically important role in helping promote safety, transparency and equity around the vaccine distribution.

Even if the vaccines are efficiently and equitably distributed (and proven to be effective) any degree of normalcy may remain elusive for some time, making it essential that our schools stay vigilant in their ongoing effort to reduce transmission and keep staff and students safe. America's educators can be counted on to continue working tirelessly every single day to advocate and create healthy learning spaces for students, Pringle added.

"With promises of a vaccine on the horizon, we have a new opportunity to return to an in-person education where every student can thrive – but only if vaccination distribution is equitable and education campaigns are transparent." 

Take Action: NEA is calling on Congress to pass the HEROES Act and provide more than $225 billion for education. The bill takes a major step toward providing public schools and colleges with the tools and resources they need to reopen buildings and campuses safely and equitably.

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.