Put teachers at front of the line for vaccinations

Jennifer Simon, an elementary school speech language pathologist, sits at her desk in her home Feb. 25, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Simon and a fellow teacher took a sick day from their schools and made a four-hour round trip to rural Van Buren County in Tennessee to get their COVID-19 vaccination. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Let’s take a portion of the state’s vaccine supply to school, allocating enough doses from the supplies replenished each week to vaccinate our teachers and educational staff members as soon as possible.

On Friday, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers on the House Education Committee called on the Department of Health to give higher priority to teachers.

“We need to get our students back in the classroom full-time,” said state Rep. Curt Sonney, R-Erie County, the chairman of the committee. “Two days of hearings this week show that all parties recognize the toll COVID-19 is taking both academically and emotionally on our children. Time is of the essence.”

We could not agree more.

The state is wrapping up what appears to be a successful campaign to vaccine people inside nursing homes. So why not do the same at schools? They are community buildings where vaccine clinics could be set up to provide shots to teachers, staff members and others, such as first responders in the communities they serve.

While some areas of Pennsylvania, including portions of the Valley, have made vaccines available to educators, all teachers are currently set to become eligible in Phase 1B, the next group after the current 1A group, which includes those 65 and older and younger people who have specific medical conditions.

In addition to teachers, Phase 1B includes first responders, correctional officers and those working in congregate settings, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing and grocery store workers, the clergy, public transit workers and those caring for children or adults in early childhood and adult day programs.

As teachers wait for their turn in Pennsylvania, 26 other states have started vaccinating educators.

“There is no substitute for in-person instruction,” said state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer County, ranking minority member of the state House Education Committee. “Pennsylvania needs to join those states for the benefit of our students, families and school employees.”

During a budget hearing meeting on Thursday, lawmakers pressed Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam to grant a higher vaccine priority to teachers so that school districts can fully reopen and students can return to class.

Beam pointed to a lack of vaccine supply, saying it would not make sense to add even more people to the list of those eligible for the vaccine if there aren’t enough doses to ensure they could get vaccinated anyway.

If that’s the case, it’s time to get more proactive — establish plans for vaccine clinics in school buildings or other community sites, move forward on a registration process for these special community clinics, recruit medical personnel, paramedics and other qualified volunteers who could administer the shots then allocate and deliver vaccine supply.

If vaccine supplies are still lacking, we trust Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf will be in Washington or on the phone with the appropriate federal officials, fighting to ensure adequate vaccine supplies are made available to fulfill these vital efforts.

The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pa.) | CNHI

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