ATLANTA — Teachers across the country are pleading for the protection of the COVID-19 vaccine before they return to class, while wondering why they’re not among the first to be offered the vaccine.
In January, nearly a dozen metro-Atlanta school superintendents wrote Gov. Brian Kemp, asking the governor to move educators into the top tier for vaccines. Currently, Georgia is vaccinating people included in tier 1A+ that does not include teachers. Educators are in category 1B, per CDC guidelines.
A CDC advisory panel began work last April to determine the most effective way to distribute the vaccine.
“Understanding that early on, the demand was going to exceed the supply of the vaccine,” said Dr. Kathleen Dooling, who serves on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Dr. Dooling said the goal of the committee was to get the most vulnerable vaccinated first. About 40% of the COVID deaths in this country have taken place in long-term care homes. Healthcare workers are often in contact with those sick from COVID and work in places where distributing the vaccine is relatively easy. Both groups were placed in tier 1A.
Dr. Dooling said teachers returning to the classroom do face risks, which is why they’re in level 1B.
It’s the supply of the vaccine that’s kept them from the top tier.
“Putting far more people than we actually have supply gives a promise that can’t be kept right away,” said Dr. Dooling.
Dooling added that promising too many the vaccine right away would have unintended consequences.
“People with more time, people who are more tech savvy end up getting the vaccine, when perhaps they’re not actually at the highest risk,” she said.
Some states have moved to level 1B and are now vaccinating teachers and others essential workers.
Georgia is now offering vaccines to law enforcement officers and firefighters. The governor has said teachers will be included when supply allows.
Minnesota is one state that has opened community clinics offering vaccines to teachers in some areas. But the state acknowledges demand is far outpacing supply.