When should teachers get the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 1B?

States issue different plans for essential workers
Posted at 5:12 PM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 21:37:48-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Teachers, grocery workers and police officers are among those slated to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase, but there is still debate about how best to prioritize those industries during the rollout.

After the vaccine reaches individuals in Phase 1A, frontline healthcare workers and people in nursing homes, a CDC advisory panel recommended Sunday that Phase 1B consist of people aged 75 and up and certain high-risk essential workers.

About 30 million essential workers fall into this category. Ultimately, it will be up to states and local health departments to determine which of those essential workers get first access to the lifesaving vaccines.

“I feel like we're on an organ transplant committee deciding who gets the liver and gets to survive. It's a tough decision,” said Dr. Christian Ramers, a member of San Diego County’s vaccine advisory group.

There is particular focus on when to vaccinate teachers. Nevada’s preliminary plan is to put teachers and transit workers ahead of food and retail workers. On the other hand, Louisiana’s plan is to vaccinate prison guards and food processing workers before teachers.

“I really hate that idea that we are pitted against other essential workers,” said California Teachers Association president Toby Boyd.

There are health and economic considerations surrounding the timing of immunizations for teachers. On one hand, there’s broad agreement that in-person learning offers superior educational and emotional outcomes for children, along with significant child care benefits for families.

“It’s going to help economically because it will allow parents to go back into the workforce without worrying about their child,” Boyd said.

On the other hand, education can happen virtually while jobs like policing, firefighting and food processing cannot. There are also questions about the relative risk of transmission in a classroom compared to other work settings.

“[In] a school environment, you can basically control the environment with your policies, with your air conditioning system, with mandatory masking,” said Dr. Ramers. He said other industries, such as food handling, present more risk.

“We want to stick really to who has the highest risk of catching the disease because of the constant exposure, and then who has the highest risk of dying of the disease? Those are really the two main driving principles that we're trying to balance,” he said.

A group of scientific advisers to Governor Gavin Newsom met Monday to discuss the vaccine priority schedule.

Last week, the governor’s vaccine advisory group suggested three industries should be considered for priority within Phase 1B: emergency services workers, food and agriculture workers, and education and child care employees.

The task force noted the following specific jobs.

Education and Child Care - 1.4 million workers in California
  • Child Care Workers – formal and informal
  • Preschools
  • Elementary and Secondary School Personnel
  • Community Colleges
  • Colleges and Universities
  • Trade Schools
Emergency Services – 1.1 million workers in California
  • Non-medical first responders
  • Law Enforcement
  • Firefighters
  • Child and Youth Services
  • Shelters
  • Non-residential social services for elderly and people with disabilities
  • Durable Goods Merchants including safety devices
  • Justice and Safety Activities
Food and Agriculture -- 3.4 million workers in California
  • Agricultural Workers
  • Animal/Seafood/Bakeries
  • Food Manufacturing and Slaughtering/Processing
  • Fruit, Vegetable, Dairy and Special Foods Manufacturing
  • Grocery Stores/Food Markets
  • Food and Drinking Establishments
  • Pharmacies/Drug Stores
  • Warehouse Clubs
  • Community Food Services
  • Nurseries/Florists
  • Sawmills

Advisers said last week they would consider several factors when deciding which jobs to prioritize, including occupational exposure, risk of severe disease, inability to work from home, the economic necessity of the work, and the likelihood of spreading the disease to workers and the public.

In a statement, the California Department of Public Health said its focus currently was on the distribution of the vaccine to people in Phase 1A. “Details about the placement of others are still being determined: we anticipate the framework to be finalized in the coming days,” a spokesperson said.

Boyd, the CTA president, said teachers would not feel comfortable returning to the classroom with vaccinations alone.

"This vaccine is just part of the puzzle that needs to occur to go back into in-person teaching. It still will require us to have the necessary cleaning, distancing, ventilation," personal protective equipment and rapid testing, he said.